Jun 20, 2022

Republicans flip a Texas seat.

Republicans flip a Texas seat.

Plus, Juneteenth and a question about Judge Luttig.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Mayra Flores flips a seat in Texas. Plus, Juneteenth and a question about Judge Luttig.

Mayra Flores discusses her victory on Fox News. Screenshot: Fox News
Mayra Flores discusses her victory on Fox News. Screenshot: Fox News

Juneteenth.

Happy Juneteenth. This is the second year in a row Juneteenth is being recognized nationally as a federal holiday. The day commemorates June 19th, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned that Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier. In my eyes, it should both be a day of meditation on the sin of slavery and a day of celebration. Laquan Austion, the founder of the Juneteenth Foundation, said all Americans should view the day as an American holiday, not just one for Black people.

"Think about July 4th," Austion told Axios. "We celebrate that day for American independence. Juneteenth represents our independence from ourselves. Now we all have the ability to pursue the Founding Fathers' vision."

You can read more about the history of Juneteenth and how to celebrate here.


Quick hits.

  1. Border patrol agents set an all-time monthly record in May with 223,000 migrant apprehensions at the border, according to new data. (The numbers)
  2. Swimming's world governing body has adopted a new gender policy that allows trans athletes to compete in women's competitions only if they did not go through male puberty. (The new rules)
  3. Children younger than five can start getting the Pfizer and Moderna shots as early as this week. (The vaccine)
  4. In Thursday and Friday's January 6 hearings, investigators showed evidence that Trump advisers privately knew their scheme to have Mike Pence reject electors was illegal. (The evidence)
  5. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said a federal gas tax holiday may be "worth considering" to ease the burden of soaring prices. (The idea)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

Mayra Flores. Last week, Republican Mayra Flores won a special election for an open congressional seat in South Texas. Her win over Democrat Dan Sanchez was a major breakthrough for Republicans who have been trying to make inroads in the Rio Grande region. She will take the seat of U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela (D), who resigned to work for a lobbying firm. Flores will become the first Mexican-born woman to enter Congress.

The race was held in the 34th District, which President Joe Biden won by four percentage points in 2020, making Flores’ victory even more encouraging for Republicans. However, redistricting made the 34th more Democratic-friendly, and Flores will have to face incumbent Rep. Vicente Gonzalez in November's midterms.

Sanchez blamed the national party for not investing in the race.

“Based on the results, we came up short tonight despite being outspent by millions of dollars from out of state interests and the entire Republican machine,” he said. “Too many factors were against us, including little to no support from the National Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

The Democratic party, meanwhile, argued that it was not worth investing in the race given that it will be up again in November under more favorable boundaries, the Texas Tribune reported. Republicans, meanwhile, framed Flores' win as part of a new movement to win over Hispanic voters in the region, where Biden underperformed in 2020.

Flores works as a respiratory therapist and came to the U.S. when she was six years old with her parents. Her husband is a border patrol agent, and she frequently harped on border security on the campaign trail, even describing the border as "under attack." She told Politico that despite seeing most of her family vote Democratic her entire life, she began to realize her views on religion, abortion and border security were more aligned with Republicans, so she got involved with the party five years ago.

Flores won 51% of the vote to Sanchez's 43%. Perhaps most notably, she carried Cameron County, the most populous county in the district and a county Biden won by 13 points in 2020.

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions from the right and left, then my take.



What the right is saying.

  • The right says the win is a major turning point for Republicans, who are making inroads with Hispanic voters.
  • Many call out "woke" ideology, abortion and the border as issues motivating Hispanics in Texas.
  • Some argue it's a tangible sign of the incoming red wave.

In Spectator, George Neumayr said Flores’ victory "punctuates" the problem Joe Biden has with Hispanic voters.

"His woke agenda appears to be driving them into the arms of Republicans," Neumayr wrote. "Born in Mexico, Flores won the special election for the 34th Congressional District on a staunchly conservative platform of “God, family, and country” — a repudiation of Biden’s fixation on secularism, libertinism, and identity politics. Her victory is no doubt setting off alarm bells in Democratic circles, but it can’t come as a complete surprise to the party’s strategists. Some of the shrewder ones have been fretting recently over the party’s alienation of Hispanics. The party of critical race theory is paying a price for its complacency. It assumed that pandering to Black Lives Matter would appeal to all minorities. It doesn’t.

"To the Hispanics Flores represents, lectures about America as a product of white supremacy are boring and irrelevant," Neumayr added. "What worries them is not America’s past but its present. Biden’s policies are 'destroying the country,' said Flores on the campaign trail. She noted that America under Biden is becoming as dysfunctional as the countries from which Hispanic immigrants fled. Donald Trump got more Hispanic votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. Barack Obama attributed that to 'a lot of evangelical Hispanics who, the fact that Trump says racist things about Mexicans, or puts undocumented workers in cages, they think that’s less important than the fact that he supports their views on gay marriage or abortion.' But the problem for the Democrats is broader than that, as the victory of Flores suggests. She poached from the Democrats Hispanic voters who not only support the GOP on social issues but also on issues related to the economy and border."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said it’s "another piece of evidence Democrats won't win the future on demographics alone."

"Ms. Flores will serve out the rest of [Rep. Filemon Vela’s} term, and it doesn’t sound like she won by triangulating to the center. 'Washington liberals are killing the American dream, attacking oil-and-gas jobs and causing prices to skyrocket,' she says in her ads. 'We must secure our borders and keep our families safe.' Today’s Democratic Party is increasingly out of step with many Hispanic voters," the board wrote. "Progressives want no restrictions on abortion. They see oil-and-gas jobs as a threat to the climate. And they characterize religious-liberty arguments as bigotry in disguise. The more that President Biden defers to the left-most elements of his party, the better the opportunity for Republicans to make substantive gains.

"Perhaps Ms. Flores’s victory will cause a few more Democratic South Texans to reconsider the GOP," it added. "A note of caution is that special elections aren’t always harbingers. The current tally says about 30,000 voters turned out Tuesday, compared with more than 200,000 in 2020. Ms. Flores will have her work cut out for her to keep her seat in November. That election will take place under a revised map that makes the district more Democratic. Ms. Flores will face incumbent Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who currently holds the neighboring 15th district. She will need to work hard these next five months to prove herself. But whatever happens, her win Tuesday already proves that [the] GOP can compete for her constituents."

In The Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti said Republicans are surfing the red wave.

"In January, FiveThirtyEight published a story with the headline, 'Some Early Clues About How the Midterms Will Go.' The authors, Alex Samuels and Nathaniel Rakich, named four things to watch during the election year: President Biden’s job approval, the congressional generic ballot, special election results, and individual election polls. Six months later, all signs point to a great night for Republicans in November," Continetti said. "This week Biden dropped below 40 percent approval in both the FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics averages of polls... Since the beginning of the year, Republicans have led Democrats in both the FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics averages of the congressional generic ballot. That lead is small—about 3 points—but stable.

"On June 14, Republican Mayra Flores trounced Democrat Dan Sanchez in a majority Hispanic congressional district on the Mexican border," Continetti said. "Her victory wasn’t just evidence that the Hispanic vote is migrating to the GOP. It also supports the case for a Republican wave. If a party consistently outperforms its typical margins in these irregularly scheduled elections—like Democrats did in 2017 and early 2018—it is usually a sign that the political environment is leaning in its direction, Rakich wrote in April. The most recent margin in Texas’s 34th Congressional District was 5 points for the Democrats. Flores beat Sanchez by 8 points. That’s a 13-point swing toward the Republican Party," Continetti said. "And the Texas special election followed similar elections in California and Alaska where Republicans also over-performed. When he wrote about special elections in April, Rakich warned that there wasn’t enough data to identify a trend. Well, to quote another election-watcher, I’ve seen enough. The results of special elections are in line with a Republican triumph on November 8."


What the left is saying.

  • The left criticized the Democratic party for not stopping Flores' rise.
  • Some argued that this race is a very bad sign for Democrats in the midterms, but cautioned not to overreact.
  • Others said it's clear Hispanic voters won't be a reliable part of Democrats' voting base.

Elvia Díaz said Flores' win should trouble every Democrat.

"It’s bad enough that Democrats did nothing to dodge Republican Mayra Flores’ blow in South Texas. It’s even worse to think they’ve given up altogether," Diaz wrote. "She’ll serve the remainder of Vela’s term and thus will have to face another Democrat in November in a newly redrawn district that may be more favorable to Democrats. This is where Democrats blew it. They chose to spend almost nothing to retain the seat, essentially handing Republicans a powerful poster child. Flores is now headed to Washington as the first Mexican-born congresswoman. She’s married to a U.S. border patrol agent and, as the Texas Tribune put it, also 'dabbled in QAnon conspiracy-mongering.'

"And now she has a huge megaphone to tout her story, which is sure to resonate with Trump Republicans and conservative Latinos who, like her, favor abortion restrictions and feel taken for granted. 'This win is for the people who were ignored for so long!' Flores said on Twitter after defeating Democrat Dan Sanchez. 'This is a message that the establishment will no longer be tolerated! We have officially started the red wave!!' She’s onto something – at least about the fact that the Democratic establishment is dropping the ball defending congressional seats and wistfully ignoring Latinos to their detriment," Díaz wrote. "Democrats are making a similar mistake in Arizona by largely ignoring Latinos, who make up a third of the state’s population... The lesson from Texas is simple, and which has been repeated ad nauseam. Fight to win. Spend a lot of money to reach Latinos, just like other voters, instead of just throwing them the crumbs or ignoring them until the last minute."

In The Washington Post, Aaron Blake asked "how much does it actually tell us?"

"There’s no question that the South Texas result is a significant win for the GOP, considering the particulars of this district. Democrats have controlled the Rio Grande Valley for more than a century. And Republicans picked off a district that’s both the country’s second-most heavily Hispanic (84 percent) and that went for Joe Biden by four points," Blake said. "Republicans have been gaining in the area for years, with most of former president Donald Trump’s biggest gains between the 2016 and 2020 elections coming in heavily Hispanic counties in South Texas and southern Florida. But that hadn’t — yet — translated to taking heavily Hispanic Democratic congressional seats. As The Washington Post’s Arelis R. Hernández and Michael Scherer wrote in February, Republicans have continued to chip away at long-standing Democratic dominance in South Texas. This district went for President Biden by just four points, but in 2012 and 2016, it went blue by more than 20 points.

"Complicating matters somewhat when it comes to discerning what Tuesday’s race portends is that national Democrats didn’t really try very hard in it," he added. "Texas’s congressional map is being overhauled, and come November, this district (1) will be more heavily Democratic and (2) will feature incumbent Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D) on the ballot. (The leading Democratic candidate in this race, Dan Sanchez, was running only for the remainder of the current term.) Thus there wasn’t as much at stake as there would be in a normal special election. Essentially, Democrats’ incentives here would have been to salvage a vote for the next few months, to avoid forcing Gonzalez to run against a fellow incumbent, and to avoid an embarrassing loss. Ultimately, national Democrats dropped a modest sum on campaign ads in the final week, which Sanchez complained was too little, too late. And, indeed, he was badly outspent and outpaced on the airwaves."

Lloyd Green said it should be an alarm bell to Democrats.

"Flores is the first Republican elected from the district, and the first Latina Republican in Texas’s congressional delegation," Green wrote. "The Democrats have plenty to worry about. Flores campaigned on being born in Mexico and arriving in the US with her migrant parents. From the looks of things, the Democrats’ hold on Latino voters appears to be rapidly eroding. The cracks that appeared in the 2020 elections continue to grow. Concerns over the economy and crime have supplanted immigration as a driving issue. With Trump’s name not on the ballot, the collapse of the stock market and inflation rampant, Flores’s win is a foretaste of the coming midterms. The special election also served as a blunt reminder of the lack of rapport between Joe Biden and the Latino community.

"In the 2020 Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders won Latinos over with a platform of Medicare for all and higher wages, lunch-bucket issues that resonate with a demographic group that leads Americans in workforce participation," Green said. "In the February 2020 Nevada caucuses, the Vermont senator netted half the Hispanic vote, and triumphed in that contest by more than 25 points. Beyond that, a significant portion of US Hispanic voters categorize themselves as “white”, including more than half of Cubans in the Miami area, a 2020 Pew survey found. Contrary to what some progressives have convinced themselves, not all Hispanics feel woke, let alone are inclined to refer to themselves as 'Latinx.'"


My take.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the "Great Replacement" theory after the Buffalo shooting. In "my take" in that edition, I made the point that very few people spend enough time talking about precisely why such a theory is nonsensical and evidence-free. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

And even if Democrats’ strategy was to "import voters," politically speaking, it'd be somewhere between extremely risky and very stupid. Foreign born immigrants are actually more socially conservative. Hispanic and Asian immigrants are increasingly aligning themselves with Republicans. Immigrants’ impact on making the United States "more left-wing'' is decidedly unclear, and I could make a good argument that “importing” immigrants from “first world” European nations (where left-wing politics and socialism often thrive) would actually be the best way to thrust Democrats further into power.

Of course, Democrats have — for years — championed an odd mirror version of this theory: The idea that demographics are destiny. Because the United States is becoming less white, they have said, it will become more liberal. The future belonged to the left. The major distinction is that Democrats presented these changes as good news, but the theory is still false, no matter how it is framed. Demographics are not destiny.

Political analysts are keen on writing about "Hispanic" and "Latino" voters as if they are a monolith, much in the way they talk about Black voters or white voters without college degrees. Mexican-Americans in the Rio Grande aren't going to vote the same way as Mexican-Americans in southern California, just as white Americans in Texas don't vote the same way as white Americans in California. They are individuals. And, to extend that thought, a Puerto Rican voter in Brooklyn isn't going to have the same priorities as a Cuban voter in Miami or a Mexican voter in West Texas — yet we slap the same label on all of them when we discuss national politics.

Race essentialism and demographic obsession obscure the nuance and reality of our country — they don't bring it into focus.

What this story should tell us is that voters in heavily Hispanic districts in south Texas are not just going to rubber stamp someone because they have a "D" next to their name. It should remind us that Republican talking points on border issues resonate strongly not just with your stereotypical Republican voter but also with many U.S. immigrants living on the border. And, yes, it is a good reminder that Biden and Democrats are facing terrible signals in every direction heading into the 2022 midterms.

There are some important caveats, though. For starters, just 29,000 people voted, compared to 200,000 in the same race in 2020 and over 140,000 in the 2018 midterms. It's also true, as Aaron Blake pointed out, that one district out of 435 should not be overstated. In a pure, statistical sense, it's a very small sample size. I also thought political analyst Simon Rosenberg made some great points on Twitter about the way the "red wave" is being overstated by some. He said, in part:

  • The most likely Senate seat flip right now is in Pennsylvania, and it's going red to blue.
  • While Republicans are making gains with Hispanics in Texas and Florida, they are losing ground in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
  • "Dems now control all 8 Senate seats in AZ, CO, NM, NV," he said, "And in ‘20 won these 4 states at the Presidential level for the first time in 80 years."

All of this is good context to keep in mind when you read what I'm about to say next: In the larger scheme of things, there is nothing encouraging here for Democrats.

Matthew Continetti's piece was the most cogent in this regard. When you look at the four metrics that most accurately portend midterm outcomes (Job approval, generic ballot, special elections and individual races), everything looks bad for Democrats in the House of Representatives. The only asterisk is the Senate (as Rosenberg said, too), where Republicans are struggling to get their footing in key races.

Flores' win is a sign that south Texas is up for grabs, making it another area Democrats now have to defend. It's a fresh reminder that demographics aren't destiny, that minority voters aren't monoliths, and that the political winds can shift in a hurry. If things keep blowing the way they are, though, Republicans’ stranglehold on Texas will grow in 2022, and that is looking increasingly likely to be part of a larger congressional makeover.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: What do you make of Judge Luttig’s assessment that “the former president and his party are today a clear and present danger for American democracy”? How should people, parties, and the media react to that?

— Anonymous, San Diego, California

Tangle: Well, for starters, I think it's important to be precise about what he said (especially given how slow and deliberate Luttig was in his testimony): “Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.” I note this because I doubt Luttig would generalize and say "his party" — i.e. all Republicans — are a threat to American democracy. Luttig is a staunch Republican former judge with extensive conservative bonafides who was appointed by George W. Bush and has been an influential figure in the conservative legal movement for years. He also advised Vice President Mike Pence up to and through January 6, a man he now views as a hero for his role in stopping the attempt to overthrow the election.

As for how we should react, I think we should listen to what he said and hear it. Really hear it. As I said last week, I am much less interested in the rioting at the Capitol than I am in what we didn't see, which was an actual effort by former President Trump and some in his legal team to halt and overturn the election. Luttig is a well respected conservative legal expert who had a front row seat for the whole thing, and his testimony was damning. He said in no uncertain terms that members of the Trump administration both knew he hadn't won the election and knew the plan that John Eastman laid out was illegal (and would lose 9-0 before the Supreme Court, as Eastman himself put it). Eastman even asked Trump for a pardon in an email the January 6 committee recently shared during the hearings.

Yet they proceeded anyway.

Interestingly, John Eastman was a former clerk of Luttig's (as was Sen. Ted Cruz), and Luttig did not hold back about his role in the scheme. I don't know what will happen in the 2024 race or who will run, but I do know Luttig made a very compelling case that Eastman knew that what he was doing was illegal. Eastman also had more than a few enablers and encouragers, and I don't think we should forget that either.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Republican senators are facing pushback from both supporters and opponents of gun control legislation. Senators like Mike Lee (R-UT) are facing questions about why they aren't supporting the bill when polling among constituents shows widespread support for what is being considered. Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) — who is leading negotiations — faced boos at a conservative convention this weekend and is being pressured by Texas gun rights groups to back out of the negotiations. Last week, after 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans in the Senate announced the framework for a deal on gun control, their negotiations hit some headwinds. Axios has the story and Punchbowl News has the latest.


Numbers.

  • 81%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, the lowest in 78 years, according to Gallup.
  • 87%. The percentage of U.S. adults who said they believed in God in 2017.
  • 30%. The number of U.S. companies who made Juneteenth a paid holiday, according to a new survey.
  • 48%. The percentage of Hispanics nationwide who consider themselves Democrats.
  • 23%. The percentage of Hispanics nationwide who consider themselves Republicans.
  • 48-29. Biden's approval-disapproval rating among Hispanic voters.

Have a nice day.

The owner of a gas station in Phoenix is selling his fuel at a loss to help his customers out. Jaswiendre Singh buys gas at $5.66 per gallon but sells it for 47 cents less. With 1,000 gallons of gas pumped at his station every day, he says he is taking a huge loss. But he's hoping to give some relief to his customers. "My mother, my father, they teach us to help," Singh told KTVK/KPHO. "If you have something, you have to share with other people." Singh has been living in Phoenix for more than two decades, has three kids, and said he can make up the loss with purchases from inside his store.


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