Trump Venezuela policy scores in Florida

MIAMI — Vice President Mike Pence and top Florida Republicans plan to rally Friday in Miami to support Venezuela’s new interim president and highlight the Trump administration’s aggressive approach to the ongoing political crisis.

But it’s also an opportunity to open a door with Hispanic voters in a state that’s critical to the president’s reelection. The Hispanic vote here is far from monolithic: About 17 percent of Florida’s active registered voters are Hispanic, about a third of whom are estimated to be of Cuban-American descent and a third of Puerto Rican descent, followed by those whose families have roots throughout Latin America: Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

Between ongoing strife in Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega and the unrest in Venezuela under dictator Nicolás Maduro — which has also led to troubles in neighboring Colombia — Republicans see a window to send a hardcore anti-socialist message — one that, some say, helped the GOP win just enough of the overall Hispanic vote in November’s midterm elections to keep Florida’s governorship in Republican hands and take a Senate seat from the Democrats.

The Friday event — which could feature Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — follows the Trump administration’s decision last week to lead a multinational coalition to formally recognize Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez as the legitimate acting president of Venezuela amid what many nations see as an unconstitutional power grab by Maduro.

In Florida, Trump’s decision was cheered by Republicans as well as Democrats. But some Florida Democrats fret that Trump could politically benefit both from the policy and from the critical reaction to it by a few national members of their party — including Sen. Bernie Sanders, a likely presidential candidate — who have raised the specter of a U.S.-led “coup” taking place in Venezuela.

“It’s been very frustrating,” said Miami state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Colombia-born Democrat who represents a 70 percent Hispanic district and advocated two weeks ago that the Trump administration declare Maduro an illegitimate leader and recognize Guaidó.

“Trump is doing the right thing, and I’m not going to criticize Trump for doing the right thing because you lose credibility,” she said.

In 2020, Trump supporters acknowledge he needs to carry Florida and its 29 Electoral College votes for a second time. In a state the president won by just 1.2 percentage points in 2016, the shift of any distinct Hispanic group can make a difference.

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