A Latino won the Republican nod to run for U.S. Senate in Texas, and will likely win in the General Election in November. Ted Cruz, the upstart former Solicitor General of Cuban descent born in Canada, easily beat the institutional home-state candidate, David Dewhurst, in last night’s Republican primary.
While this is undoubtedly a victory for the Tea Party, it is less clear that this is good news for the future of the GOP in Texas. In a state where the Republicans are increasingly beholden to an active group like the Tea Party influenced by outside interests, the State of Texas and its surging Mexican-American electorate is going in the opposite direction.
Cruz’s victory is a sign that the Republican Party may be weaker than previously thought, unable to mount an effective counter-attack against someone who touted himself as the conservative candidate, while pigeonholing David Dewhurst as a moderate. This is quite a feat and props should go out to Cruz for his victory.
But what does this say for the national GOP? Cruz’s victory may also have a larger impact on how the Republican Party views the appeal of a Latino candidate and their ability to energize the very folks the GOP has grown dependent on, older and whiter voters. In short, Marco Rubio may have been last night’s biggest winner after a bad month where interest in him as a Vice Presidential candidate had waned.
But with the Republican Party weakened by a demographic time bomb, Latinos like Cruz and Rubio who are heavily conservative may be the bridge the GOP needs to maintain its appeal to its current demographic, while giving it a shot at the demographics of tomorrow.
True, it is unlikely that a Cuban-American can have a huge impact on the voting behavior of Mexican-Americans, the vast majority of Latinos in the country, but the short term needs of the GOP is to appeal to Tea Party folks while laying the groundwork for the future.
The only question is whether or not a person like Ted Cruz can do that. He’s certainly smart, so he has a shot, and Cruz also has the support of the Bush family, an important cog in the political culture of the State. If you doubt that, just ask Rick Perry, who endorsed David Dewhurst, while Jeb Bush’s son, George P. Bush and his political action committee, MavPAC, endorsed Ted Cruz.
That’s a key political ally for Cruz if he is to begin his work building for the future of the Party. George P. Bush, whose mother is a Mexican national, has been busy promoting his own network of young Latino Republicans throughout the State. His backing of Cruz was a savvy move and if he is able to help Cruz expand his coalition, the future of the GOP may just have some promise.
Meanwhile, the Democrats announced that Julian Castro, the young charismatic Mayor of San Antonio, will be the keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention this summer. This marks the first time a Latino holds such an important symbolic placement within the Party. This is the same spot a young State Senator from Illinois held in 2004. His name was Barack Obama.
The Democrats are right to be keenly aware that they are surprisingly bereft of Latino talent at the national level, while the Republicans keep promoting young Latino talent on a wave of white populism. Unlike Dewhurst, who was outgunned by the intellectual weight of the Harvard-educated Cruz, Castro possesses the same academic pedigree to be considered a legitimate candidate on up the ladder.
It’s unclear what the next four years will bring, but one thing is for sure, Latino politics just got more interesting.
Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., is an NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.