Florida senator Rick Scott has an advanced degree in winning Hispanic voters as a Republican.
It has buoyed him in all his races, most recently his victory in his 2018 Senate race after serving two terms as governor, so he seems a logical person to ask about President Donald Trump’s eye-popping improvement among Hispanics in Florida.
A Marist/NBC poll last week had Trump narrowly ahead of Biden among Hispanics in Florida, and the president is leading handily among Cuban Americans.
Scott’s bottom line: “What I did, as governor, is I showed up, and Trump’s doing the same thing.”
By showing up, Scott means relentless community outreach and connecting on issues important to Hispanic voters.
On jobs, for instance, he says, “What I did is I went and announced jobs in all types of businesses, but a lot of the Hispanic businesses, I highlighted them. I created these awards, and I gave the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award to businesses that had added jobs.”
He identified himself with the deep-felt anti-Communism of exile communities. “I did a lot of rallies against Maduro, a lot of events against the Castro regime, and people care,” Scott says. “They walked away from socialism. They’ve had to leave from countries that became socialist.”
And he attended to the needs of Puerto Rico, hit by a devastating hurricane that had added to the population of Puerto Ricans in Florida. “I worked hard,” Scott says. “We opened relief centers in the Orlando and in the Miami airports. I went to Puerto Rico eleven times. I took utilities over, I took goods over. We put in a lot of effort. I sent my agency heads over to be helpful in Puerto Rico after the hurricanes. And I’ve done relief efforts after the earthquake, all these things. People see that.”
Trump isn’t Florida’s governor, so he obviously isn’t going to hold anything like the number of events that Scott did, but the president and Vice President Pence have been in South Florida constantly, often at anti-Maduro events.
Pence rolled out “Latinos for Trump” in Miami in June of last year, although the group hadn’t really stopped its outreach since the 2016 campaign. It’s made millions of voter contacts. Meanwhile, according to Politico, Trump has been outspending Biden in the Miami–Fort Lauderdale media market, much of it in the form of Spanish-language ads.
The Trump team considers the Democrats culturally tone-deaf, whether it’s the attempted boycott of Goya, a staple of Cuban-American households; the push to use the ridiculous term “Latinx”; or the emphasis on the word “progressive,” which echoes the self-description of Latin America’s Communist regimes.
On issues, per Scott, it is the basic trifecta of jobs, education, and public safety that resonates with Hispanic voters.
“What people don’t understand, in my opinion, is that Hispanics are just like you and me,” he says. “They love their family, they love their church. They want jobs, they want their futures, their kids’ education. And they want to be in a safe community.”
Hawkishness on the border is not, contrary to the conventional wisdom, a showstopper. “They want the immigration laws enforced,” Scott observes. “They busted their butt to come here legally, and they believe people ought to do it legally. They know that legal immigration is good for the country. Illegal immigration’s bad for a country.”
Scott sees Trump as having an advantage over Biden on jobs, and the socialism issue as hurting Biden, both as a general matter and specifically with regard to policy toward the Castro and Maduro regimes.
“Trump cares about holding the dictators in Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua accountable, and Biden’s just the opposite,” according to Scott. “He cozies himself up to dictators. He looks to appease Raul Castro — Biden and Obama did — versus Trump, who has done all sorts of things to try to hold the Castro regime accountable. Biden did nothing on Maduro.”
And the anti-police rhetoric on the left isn’t doing Democrats any favors, either. “This defund the police stuff?” Scott says. “I mean, they want to live in a safe community. If you look at the immigrant mentality — the immigrant mentality is they don’t like socialism, they want to be safe, they want a rule of law; they want people to follow the law because that’s what they hated about their countries.”
Although Cuban Americans have historically been more Republican than other Hispanic groups, they had been trending more Democratic over the last ten years or so. The conventional wisdom was that Obama’s opening to Cuba signified a new stage in Cuban-American politics, but that hasn’t proven true — in part because of the rise of explicit socialists within the Democratic Party.
Now, Donald Trump, who is presumed to be anathema to all Hispanics, has notably enhanced his standing with these voters in a material boost to his chances in a must-win swing state.
Senator Scott has no doubt what the outcome will be in Florida: “Oh, Trump’s going to win. I told Trump this back in ’16 — all the polls said I would lose in all three of my races, and I won. Right? Because the polls are generally — in my races it looked like they were off three to seven points. So if the polls are saying Trump’s tied, he’s up three to seven points.”
Be that as it may, there’s no doubt that Florida has given Republicans an important template for “showing up” going forward.