In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis and Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott called on Cuban military leaders to rise up against the regime. They also accentuated the contrasts with Biden’s White House by calling for a plan to spread wireless internet access in Cuba.
The presidential candidates have seized the opportunity to differentiate themselves in a crowded area, but they are also taking the opportunity to unify the GOP behind themes almost anyone can agree on, ranging from an anti-Communist message outright from a critique of the Biden administration’s foreign policy to attacks on the progressive left.
“Cuba is no longer just a South Florida problem,” said Richard Grenell, the former director of national intelligence and deputy for the Trump campaign.
“It’s less than a while since I told you – it’s that Republicans have always been right. We have been discussing these issues for a very long time, ”said Grenell, who was involved in secret negotiations to remove Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro from his post. “I don’t believe there is a new moment, a leap or a quick change. I have seen the slowness of first and second generation Americans coming from Latin America. “
White House contenders aren’t the only Republicans to elevate Cuba. In Virginia, candidate for Cuban-American state attorney general Jason Miyares pronounced against repression on the island. In the race for the crowded Ohio GOP Senate, Bernie Moreno, who was born in Colombia, shot in the biggest fundraiser in the field based on a strong anti-socialist message.
But Florida, a go-to state for Republican presidential candidates, remains the center of gravity of Cuban politics and politics. It is a holdover from the large Cuban American population of Miami-Dade County, as well as Hispanics with roots in other Latin American countries where socialism is anathema to many exiles and immigrants.
For years Cuban Americans were a reliable Republican electoral bloc, but they began to drift more towards Democrats just before and after President Barack Obama won and ruled for two terms, at the end of which he unfreezed the relations with Cuba.
President Donald Trump then turned the tide, imposed new sanctions on Cuba, raised the voice of Cuban exiles at his GOP nominating convention last year, and renamed the totalitarian government as the state sponsor of terrorism.
His policies struck a chord with newer and older Cuban immigrants as well as Venezuelan, Nicaraguan and Colombian Americans, who escaped leftist movements and governments in Latin America and flocked under the GOP banner of the year. last in Florida.
This wave surprised Democrats, who did not listen to voices from the Florida party warning of the powerful influence of the socialism issue on the state’s Latin American electorate – a message from the GOP that DeSantis has tested during his 2018 victory in the gubernatorial race against progressive Andrew Gillum.
Republicans and Democrats realized that the problem transcended demographic boundaries, which led the GOP to expand its use nationwide.
“It’s hard to say how infuriating it is that socialism could have escalated without immediate setback,” said Steve Schale, founder of the pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country and Obama’s senior campaign adviser in Florida. .
Socialism was such a powerful issue during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary in Florida that Unite The Country published a post indirectly referring to Senator Bernie Sanders’ sympathetic comments about Cuba. “We don’t need another revolution,” read the mailer.
Schale said political leaders need to do more than just pretend in counties like Miami-Dade; they must show themselves and be considered as credible voices on Cuba.
“Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton took a tight, reliable Democratic county and turned it into a juggernaut, but they did it by meeting voters where they are, while acknowledging the hardships of immigrant history. and pushing back disinformation, ”he said.
Aware of the toxicity of accusations of socialism In the eyes of many Americans, Biden made sure to tag Sanders with the tag in the primary and pointed out at one point in the general election that “I beat the socialist.” This is how I was elected. That’s how I got the nomination.
While Biden pledged to cancel Trump’s sanctions on Cuba, he has yet to do so – and his administration will not give out a timeline for the announcements regarding the island. He called for an end to the violence in Cuba and denounced the communist regime and its brutal crushing of uprisings on the island, but others tempered that call by also denouncing the US embargo, a division worrying for Democrats.
“An active and key part of the Democratic base is generally friendly to the regime and hostile to US policy regarding the regime,” Rubio said in an interview. He called the Cuba issue an “internal problem” for Democrats who “don’t want to deal with it or say as little as possible and tick the box and say,” Yes, it’s terrible what’s happening in Cuba. Because they don’t want to be beaten up by the liberal progressive Marxist base.
Last week, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation went further by denounce the American embargo while saying nothing about the repression on the island. The statement, posted on Instagram, proved so controversial that the organization turned off comments as people ransacked the group.
A spokesperson for the group declined to comment on the case, but told POLITICO that its opposition to the crackdown on the island “goes without saying”.
“Our priority is really to anchor our position against the US embargo against Cuba which denies supplies, money and trade with Cuba, which was aimed at trying to bring about regime change in Cuba. So we didn’t want to lose. this from view, “said the spokesperson, while rejecting” right-wing propaganda “in favor of the embargo.
For the conservatives, this was confirmation of their claim that the organization – which the founders said were Marxists by training – was a socialist-communist front group affiliated with the push to teach “critical theory.” of race ”in schools and calls for“ funding the police ”. “
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, another potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, joined other members of his party in call the group on twitter, saying “This is the Black Lives Matter organization that supports the brutal and oppressive dictatorship in #Cuba.”
John McLaughlin, a pollster for Trump who has also worked extensively in South Florida, said Cuba’s elevation to international news would only accentuate the contrasts between the parties.
“It is a fundamental conflict between freedom and communism,” he said. “You have a growing Marxist-Socialist vision within the Democratic Party, and that’s a perfect question for Republicans. It’s not just Cuban voters, Venezuelan voters, Colombian voters, Nicaraguan voters. Whether it’s South Florida, South Texas, or even the South Bronx, there are people who have escaped socialism. And they don’t want it here.
Maya King contributed to this report.