Florida, if handled improperly, could become a great source of anxiety for Republicans hoping to defend the president’s electoral victory there in 2020. Despite sporting above-average polling numbers in the state — though still a net-negative approval rating — Trump will have to build on his 100,000 vote win over Hillary Clinton as new voting laws allow up to 1.2 million former felons, who skew toward Democratic values, to cast a ballot in 2020.
In addition to that challenge, which Florida Republicans are combating by nullifying ex-convicts’ voting rights, the state party apparatus now fears that Trump’s policy toward Venezuela could stifle their coming electoral prospects. According to a report from the Washington Post, Florida Republicans are worried that the president’s decision to back opposition leader Juan Guaidó could become a political liability among the state’s 200,000 Venezuelans.
“This could be another Bay of Pigs as far as Cuban sentiment is concerned,” Al Cardenas, former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, told the Post. “Trump’s name is gold in South Florida” if president Nicolás Maduro is toppled. If not, “it’s going to hurt him.”
Other Hispanic leaders in the state, like former Congressman Carlos Curbelo, were frustrated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recognition of the administration’s work with Cuba to convince Maduro to leave Caracas. “The administration’s actions with regard to Venezuela could make all the difference, either in getting the president across the finish line in Florida, or, if this effort stalls, it could also cost him,” Curbelo told the Post.
In a February speech in Miami, Trump sounded as confident on the topic as any, claiming that a “new day is coming in Latin America,” and that “in Venezuela and across the Western Hemisphere, socialism is dying.” The president attempted to connect the political reality of the failing state to the rise of the left within the Democratic party since 2016. “To those who would try to impose socialism on the United States, we again deliver a very simple message: America will never be a socialist country,” he said.
According to Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh, the 2020 team will hammer that “especially poignant” point home in Florida. “It is never a mistake to stand for freedom against tyranny,” Murtaugh told the Post, responding to the topic of Republican concerns regarding Venezuela and Florida. For both parties, the state will be an essential stepping stone on the path to 2020 victory. Florida is the largest swing state in play, with 29 electoral votes — the fourth-most of any state. Since 1996, the candidate that has won Florida has won the White House. To ensure that it goes red, the Trump campaign has assigned a political director to exclusively handle Florida — the only state given that designation by the Trump campaign.
As the Post notes, Trump’s Venezuela policy adds to a growing list of problems among Hispanic voters in Florida, who make up one in six of the state’s voters:
His new restrictions on Cuba win praise from older Cuban Americans, but polls in recent years show a younger generation favors more open relations. Many Hispanics are recoiling from Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, as well as his widely criticized response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico.
After the failed power grab by Juan Guaidó at the end of April, it’s clear that the leadership crisis in Venezuela will not end as promptly as the Trump administration expected it to. But with each passing day, the likelihood that Trump sticks to his pro-Guaidó position deteriorates. As the Post reported last week: “Trump has said that Maduro is a ‘tough cookie’ and that aides should not have led him to believe that the Venezuelan leader could be ousted.” If Trump administration policy toward the South American country could threaten the GOP’s chances in Florida, the best strategy could just be to wait a week or two in the hopes that he’ll change it.