Just one day before the top 20 Democratic candidates will face one another at the first presidential debates, hundreds of supporters for President Donald Trump chanted in unison, echoing Trump’s State of the Union Address this year: “America will never be a socialist country.”
Leading the chant was Vice President Mike Pence, who was at the DoubleTree by Hilton Miami Airport Hotel on Tuesday to help launch Latinos for Trump, a coalition devoted to mobilizing the Latino community in support of re-electing President Donald Trump.
Using anti-socialist language to characterize the Democratic Party and appeal to the Latinos who packed the room, Pence predicted that at the debates Wednesday and Thursday nights, the opposing side will “advocate more taxes, more regulations, something called ‘Medicare for All’ and the Green New Deal.”
He also made several references to a number of South American countries that have been oppressed by socialist governments, most recently Venezuela.
“Latin Americans know better than most about the cost of socialism,” Pence said to cheers. “It’s impoverished generations and stolen the liberty of millions … It’s remarkable to think about what the other side is trying to offer Americans. “
While the speech largely focused on denouncing socialism, it also touched on other common talking points like securing the United States-Mexico border, calling out the mainstream media, protecting Americans’ Second Amendment rights and denouncing late-term abortions.
“I’m here for one reason and one reason only,” he said. “That is because Florida and America need four more years of President Donald Trump.”
In front of a sea of red hats, American flags and bedazzled “Trump” jewelry, Pence was joined by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, a former state representative from Miami who was named co-chair of the national effort. Also in attendance was Pence’s nephew and senior Trump adviser John Pence, state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, and Jenniffer González, the non-voting Congressional member for Puerto Rico.
“In November of last year, Florida was in the fray ... bowing to the Democratic socialist agenda,” Núñez said. “Socialism will never be accepted here. Together we will stand against socialism and for the American dream.”
In a Miami Herald op-ed published Monday, Núñez endorsed Trump for president and warned that Democrats will “try to dismantle the historic gains made under this president’s direction.” In 2016, she supported Sen. Marco Rubio in the GOP primary and tweeted that Trump was “the biggest con man there is.” She later deleted the tweet.
“For far too long, Latinos had been treated as if we were just another voting pool,” she wrote in the op-ed. “His passion and leadership are what will continue writing a story of resiliency for the United States.”
Núñez, Florida’s first female Hispanic lieutenant governor, said in her new leadership role with the effort she will “work to keep him in the White House” and “share his strong record of achievement for the Latino community.” She and others have touted the fact that Hispanic unemployment dropped by a full percentage point under Trump, from 5.9 percent in December 2016 to 4.9 percent in December 2017.
“As we approach the 2020 election, it is our job to show our support for a president who shares our values,” Núñez said.
Following Trump’s election, Hispanic turnout nearly doubled compared to the previous midterm election in 2014. Data suggested that turnout skewed older and Cuban, a demographic group that votes reliably Republican.
According to the Pew Research Center, Latinos will be the largest minority of eligible voters in 2020. Florida’s 2.2 million Hispanic voters make up an outsized portion of the state’s electorate, and nearly two-thirds voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
According to a recent Telemundo/Mason-Dixon poll of Hispanic voters in Florida, 29 percent approve of Trump’s performance as president, and 22 percent say they’d re-elect him.
Gianmarc Robles Morales, a mental health clinician from Orlando, voted for Trump in 2016 and said he’d do it again. Robles Morales, a devout Christian and Puerto Rican, attributes his continued support to the low unemployment rate and Trump’s “Biblical” values.
When it comes to Trump’s hard-line immigration stances, the 21-year-old said people are only critical because the policies are coming from Trump instead of former presidents Barack Obama or Bill Clinton.
“I believe that a lot of Hispanics need to be supporting Trump because of his policies, especially toward Hispanics,” Robles Morales said. “Although people say his stance on immigration may be a little ‘out there,’ or a little crazy, I do believe it does make sense.”
Attendees Inez Yimoc and Myllye Gonzales are part of Trumpers Club Miami-Dade, an informal group that attends Trump events in the area. They say efforts like Latinos for Trump signify that the campaign is taking them seriously.
“They’re paying attention to us, and not just for votes,” said Yimoc, of Miami Lakes. “It’s the importance of being Latino in South Florida. We just support him from day one.”
Letty Leon, of Hialeah, said she hopes to “flip it red” in 2020, referring to historically blue Miami-Dade County. As a female, Puerto Rican voter, Leon said sometimes she is criticized for her outspoken support. She said, however, that the campaign’s newly energized Latino outreach is affirming.
Florida Democrats are criticizing the attempt as a “repugnant, political act” that contradicts Trump’s political rhetoric and policy record.
On Monday afternoon, a half-dozen Democratic Latino activists gathered in an AFL-CIO office in Miami Springs to tell the public that their communities should reject both Trump’s pitch to Latinos and his candidacy in general.
They take issue with Trump’s aggressive immigration policies and reluctance to send aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, as well as his anti-socialist language they say panders to Latino communities like Cubans, Venezuelans and Colombians.
“If Donald Trump wins, nothing good will come to our community,” said Mayra Macias, the vice president of the Latino Victory Fund, a progressive political organization. “His policies have undermined Latinos and Latino families across the country, whether it’s healthcare, jobs and wages or separating migrant children at the border and putting them in horrifying conditions.
“It’s laughable that Donald Trump is launching his Latino coalition in Florida,” she added.