Vicente Gonzalez compares Latino Trump supporters to “Jews for Hitler”

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez at his election night watch party in Brownsville on Nov. 8, 2022. (Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune, Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune)

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from McAllen, compared Hispanic Trump supporters to “Jews for Hitler,” prompting fierce backlash from Republicans as he runs for reelection in a mostly Hispanic South Texas district.

In an interview with The New Republic published Monday, Gonzalez warned that Democrats could soon lose support among socially conservative Hispanic voters in South Texas as Republicans increasingly invest in the area. He said Hispanic voters are largely turned off by the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the top of the Republican ticket, including former President Donald Trump casting Mexican immigrants as “rapists.”

“If they didn’t have that racist, divisive element within their party, they would have a lot of Latinos, but they can’t seem to shake that off,” Gonzalez told the magazine. “The rhetoric you hear from the Republican Party is shameful and disgraceful for Latinos. And you know, when you see ‘Latinos for Trump,’ to me it is like seeing ‘Jews for Hitler,’ almost, you know?”

Republicans are pouring money into unseating Gonzalez in the 34th congressional district, which is based in the lower Rio Grande Valley and includes Brownsville and Harlingen. Former U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores is running for the seat after losing to Gonzalez in the 2022 general election. She had won the seat in a special election only a few months earlier, breaking a multi-generational streak of Democratic control in South Texas.

Flores is a vocal Trump supporter and blasted Gonzalez for comparing Latino Trump supporters to Jewish Nazis.

“Shame on Vicente Gonzalez for referring to conservative Latinos in this manner. He forgets they are his constituents, too,” Flores said on social media. “We need to elect new leadership in November, and that's exactly what the Rio Grande Valley will do.”

Other Republicans echoed Flores’ criticism. The Congressional Leadership PAC, a fundraising operation tied to House Republican leadership, issued a statement calling the remark “absolutely disgusting” and pressuring voters “into voting a certain way based on their ethnicity.” The National Republican Congressional Committee also called on Gonzalez to apologize.

When asked to clarify his comments via text message, Gonzalez doubled down: “I don’t understand how Mexican Americans can vote for” Trump.

“It’s clearly a vote against self interest. And yes it would be like the Jewish community voting for Hitler before the atrocities he caused. That would never happen. And Latinos need [to] wake up and see a tyrant on the horizon,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez added that Flores “should be calling out Trump” for his remarks about migrants.

Trump said in December that migrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.” Fellow Republicans said Trump’s comments were xenophobic and racist. His remarks reflected Adolf Hitler, who said Jews were “poisoning” Aryan blood. Trump denied knowing that Hitler made similar remarks.

The comments and reactions highlight the amplified attention on the 34th district, which was once comfortably Democratic but is now one of the few competitive districts in the state. National Republicans identified the district as one of its targets to flip in the general election and have thrown their support behind Flores.

Republicans have made progress in South Texas and are eager to capture Gonzalez’s seat. In the neighboring 15th congressional district, Republican U.S. Rep. Monica De La Cruz won her seat in 2022. Gonzalez previously represented the 15th district, and De La Cruz unsuccessfully challenged him in 2020. But her better-than-expected results led Republicans to seriously consider pickup opportunities in the region. De La Cruz won her 2022 race after the district was redrawn to be more favorable to Republicans.

Flores still faces challenges in her bid to unseat Gonzalez. District 34 is comfortably Democratic, and President Joe Biden would have won the area by 15.5 percentage points. The 15th district was drawn in 2021 to be more favorable for Republicans, and Trump would have won the district by 2.8 percentage points.

But even in the Hispanic-majority population centers in South Texas, Democrats' hold is weakening. De La Cruz lost Hidalgo County, the largest county in the 15th district, in 2022 by a considerably smaller margin than in 2020. In Cameron County, the largest in the 34th district, Gonzalez won by only 3.55 points. Four years before, former Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela won the county by roughly 30 points.

It’s a trend Gonzalez takes seriously. He told House Democratic leadership in the months before the 2022 election they should not take South Texas for granted. A growing community of conservative, evangelical Hispanic voters could be convinced by Republican messaging, he warned at the time.

Democrats invested heavily in protecting Gonzalez that year, which Gonzalez admitted was the hardest race since his first run for Congress in 2016.

Gonzalez committed a number of gaffes in the 2022 cycle that Republicans were quick to capitalize on. He contrasted himself with Flores, the first Mexican-born congresswoman, by saying he was a native of the area and “wasn’t born in Mexico.”

“I didn’t come here through chain migration, I didn’t come through asylum or amnesty or whatever,” he said in an interview with Newsweek that year.

Gonzalez’s campaign also photoshopped a picture of Flores to make her look more menacing and paid a blogger that used racist slurs to describe Flores. Gonzalez cut ties with the blogger after the racist language became public.

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