President Donald J. Trump made his reelection campaign official in Orlando, Florida using immigrants as his favorite piñata–that is, other than the media. It was no accident that, before his announcement, he indicated that starting next week, ICE will deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants, a declaration designed to appease his base and terorrize the immigrant community, two of his favorite pastimes (other than playing golf).
His 2020 campaign slogan will be “Keep America Great,” although in reality the only thing Trump is “keeping” is his anti-immigrant obsession.
In 2020, as in 2016, immigration and immigrants will be the scapegoats he uses to keep his base energized. Trump is betting once again on prejudice and division being his ‘trump’ cards. He has no worries whatsoever about speaking out of both sides of his mouth, deploying an iron fist on undocumented immigrants while also having employed and exploited them in his various businesses.
The question is whether voters that are not part of his base–in fact, the majority–become mobilized, if only to put an end to the chaos, cruelty, lies, and defiance of the Trump administration, or if the good economy and apathy will conspire to hand him a second term on a silver platter.
As in every electoral cycle, the key is voter participation.
Right now, all signs are that diverse sectors of voters will show up and vote in 2020.
Trump has some things going for him: one being more than $100 million in campaign funds, and another his incumbency. He does not have to face a primary process like the twenty-four Democrats who aspire to be the presidential nominee for their party. He has a loyal base, but he needs more than that to collate 270 electoral votes and guarantee his re-election.
That is why Trump chose Orlando, along the I-4 Corridor in Central Florida, to announce his re-election campaign. This is considered a key area to win Florida’s twenty-nine electoral votes and, by extension, the White House, because while other parts of the state are more clearly divided among Democrats or Republicans, Central Florida is more independent, and in previous elections has tipped the scales in favor of candidates of both parties.
Trump won Florida in 2016 by a narrow margin. Barack Obama won Florida in 2012 and 2008. And George W. Bush won in 2004, while in 2001 the Supreme Court declared him to be the winner over Democrat Al Gore after a contentious election. Bill Clinton won Florida in 1996, but he lost to George Bush Sr. in 1992, although Clinton did win the presidency overall.
Florida is home to more than a million Puerto Ricans, in large part living in Orlando and along the I-4 Corridor. They originated in other parts of the United States, particularly the east, but also came directly from Puerto Rico–especially after the economic crisis, which was then exacerbated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Although Puerto Ricans tend to vote democratic, many are registered as independents.
In fact, the Trump administration’s mismanagement of the emergency that “Maria” generated has the potential to determine how Puerto Ricans from Central Florida vote. There are various “gems” from Trump regarding the fallout after Maria, such as declaring that assistance to Puerto Rico was hurting the federal budget; or opposing the disaster-relief spending package due to his antipathy toward Puerto Rico and its leaders, whom he has described as inept or corrupt; or minimizing the almost 3,000 deaths on the Island that are directly or indirectly related to the poor federal response to the hurricane. Not to mention that during a visit to the Island he threw rolls of paper towels at the victims.
But in Florida there are other sectors that Trump hopes to count on: Hispanics of other nationalities that tend to be more conservative, such as Cubans and Cuban Americans. There are also Venezuelans, and Trump is betting that his response to the crisis in Venezuela in the form of sanctions is worth something, although there are others who think that he has not responded sufficiently to the humanitarian, economic, and political crisis in this South American country.
Florida is also home to Hondurans, Haitians, Guatemalans, and people of other nationalities whose lives Trump put in limbo, after cancelling the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that permitted them to live and work in this country for decades, build families, open businesses and contribute in various ways.
Of course, it remains to be seen what impact Trump’s abysmal immigration record will have on voters, with his cruel policies of family separation at the border, children in cages, or whole families crammed in open cells in detention centers in inhumane conditions.
In fact, a survey from a television network favorable to Trump, Fox, found that 50% of voters think that Trump’s immigration policies have gone too far.
Trump’s presence in Florida could also confirm the findings of his internal polls: that he may be in trouble in states he won in 2016. If so, he needs to find 270 electoral votes to win the White House in other places, and the Sunshine State is still the ultimate prize.
In the 2018 midterm elections, he relied on anti-immigrant prejudice, and it backfired. Republicans lost the House of Representatives.
In 2020, Trump is betting once again on the same anti-immigrant card. The voters will have the last word.
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