In 2020, Cherokee Tribe member and New Mexico real-estate broker Yvette Herrell became the first Native American woman to win election to Congress as a Republican. Last year Jason Miyares, whose mother fled Communist Cuba for the United States, was elected Virginia’s attorney general.
Mayra Flores came to America from Mexico when she was six years old, earned a certificate in respiratory therapy, graduated from South Texas College, and joined the GOP. In June, she won a special election to replace the Democrat who had long represented her border district. Barbara Kirkmeyer grew up poor on a dairy farm and sold cows to pay for college. She’s the Republican nominee in Colorado’s Eighth Congressional District. Juan Ciscomani is the son of Mexican immigrants, the first in his family to graduate college, and a father of six. He’s the GOP candidate in Arizona’s Sixth District.
These politicians have a few things in common. They belong to the growing number of women and minority candidates running for office as Republicans. The GOP candidates who flipped 14 Democratic House seats two years ago were women or minorities or both. The party wants to field a similarly diverse group of candidates in House races this year. And the plan is working. Recently the National Republican Congressional Committee told Politico that a record number of women and Hispanic Republicans are running for office in 2022.
The new recruits also reflect a shift in the Hispanic vote toward the GOP. Most Hispanic Americans remain Democrats, but many have been trending Republican since the coronavirus lockdowns and “mostly peaceful” protests of 2020. The Trump years were good for Hispanic and African-American workers. “Many Hispanic voters are in favor of moderate abortion rights and gun control, but these issues are just not as salient for them as economic concerns,” wrote my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ruy Teixeira in an August essay for the Wall Street Journal.
Another thing these candidates share is a message. Each of them appeals to the American dream in speeches, press releases, and advertisements. “This election is proof that the American dream is alive and well,” Miyares tweeted after the race was called for him last year. “Democrats are destroying the American dream,” proclaimed one of Flores’s widely shared Facebook ads. “Failed policies out of D.C. have put the American dream out of reach,” Ciscomani says in an effective 30-second spot.
Many of these Republicans grew up poor or working-class. They are immigrants or the children of immigrants. They know that citizenship in this country is not a trifle but a blessing. For them, the American dream represents individual freedom, personal responsibility, and a better life. The dream is a chance at success and fulfilment. As conservatives, they believe the dream is imperiled when heavy-handed bureaucracies meddle in the nation’s economic, social, and cultural life. Their argument is familiar and simple and easy to understand.
Unless you work at the New York Times. On Sunday, August 21, the paper’s front page contained an article headlined, in the print edition, “How a Storied Phrase Became a Partisan Battleground.” It was a weird, clumsy, and failed attempt to turn an aspirational idea into racist code. Reporter Jazmine Ulloa strained to find a nefarious subtext in earnest appeals to legal immigration, hard work, and boundless ambition. Surprise, surprise, you can say the American dream is in danger as much as you want—so long as you are not a Republican.
“For decades, politicians have used the phrase ‘the American dream’ to describe a promise of economic opportunity and upward mobility, of prosperity through hard work,” Ulloa wrote. “It has been a promise so powerful that it drew immigrants from around the world, who went on to fulfill it generation after generation.”
The problem, Ulloa went on, is that these days “Republican candidates and elected officials are using the phrase in a different way.” Which way? Well, Republicans say that Democrats endanger the American dream by supporting policies that generate inflation, crime, illegal border crossings, and false and racist school curricula.
Knock me over with a feather.
“Politicians have long warned,” Ulloa concedes, “that the American dream was slipping away, a note struck from time to time by former President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, and other Democrats.” So maybe Republicans and Democrats are not that different after all?
Wait, though. Ulloa isn’t finished: “What has changed is that some Republicans now cast the situation more starkly, using the dream-is-in-danger rhetoric as a widespread line of attack, arguing that Democrats have turned patriotism itself into something contentious.”
Difference and change imply dissimilarity and novelty. Yet Ulloa admits that debates over the American dream make up a tradition that is close to a century old. The dream has been entangled with politics ever since the historian James Truslow Adams popularized the slogan in the 1930s.
What’s more, Ulloa acknowledges that Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, have used and continue to use the American dream as a partisan cudgel. She quotes Gabe Vasquez, who is running as a Democrat against New Mexico’s Herrell. Vasquez says the “American dream is becoming a hallucination.” Which sounds to me like “a widespread line of attack.”
It’s not the message that the Times finds newsworthy. It’s the messenger. Ulloa was desperate to paint the GOP House candidates in the worst possible light. She notes that the presence of the American dream in Republican campaigns is a sign that the GOP is becoming more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. Typically, the New York Times leaps at the chance to celebrate diversity. But suddenly Ulloa takes a sharp turn, writing that “historians and other scholars warn that some Republicans are distorting a defining American idea and turning it into an exclusionary political message.” She quotes only one scholar, political scientist Christina Greer of Fordham University, who says without evidence that “the Republican Party is using it as a dog whistle.” Professor Greer is a regular presence on MSNBC, where she infamously referred to murder victim Mollie Tibbetts as “a girl in Iowa” whom “Fox News is talking about.”
The human mind is capable of astounding double standards. Since the beginning of 2022, President Biden has said that his opponents are on the side of George Wallace, Bull Connor, and Jefferson Davis. He has mused that “the extreme MAGA philosophy” is “like semi-fascism.” He has traveled to Independence Hall and, flanked by Marines, announced that “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” The Times did not give its story on Biden’s speech the headline “How Democracy Became a Partisan Battleground.” Its headline in the print edition was simply “Biden Portrays Democracy as Under Fire in the U.S.”
Oh, to sit in on the page-one meeting at America’s paper of record. Biden says democracy will end if Republicans win in November? Play it straight. Hispanic Republicans say future generations will be deprived of the American dream? Racism alert!
What really discomfits the editors of the New York Times, and liberals in general, is that more and more Hispanic voters are not playing their assigned roles within the “coalition of the ascendant.” Rather than vote ritualistically for Democratic candidates, many Hispanic Americans find themselves increasingly sympathetic to the Republican Party on issues such as legal immigration, economic development, law and order, and patriotism.
Like earlier waves of immigrants, these voters express an abiding love of America as the land of hope, opportunity, and freedom. They hate to see this country’s promise diminished or denied. They aren’t blowing dog whistles. They are singing hymns of praise to an American dream that, thank God, shall never die.
We want to hear your thoughts about this article. Click here to send a letter to the editor.