What the Castros Wrought, Trump Set Asunder!

Once monolithic South Florida Cuban American bloc is crumbling

I have lived in Miami since 1992 and for nearly that entire time the Cuban exile community, as it is called down here, has been monolithic in its loyalty to the Republican Party and a force to be reckoned with for anyone wanting to hold elected office. All any Republican politician, whether running for U.S. Senate, Congress, mayor or dogcatcher, had to do was have a last name that ended with a vowel an S or a Z, show up and drop a couple of anti-Castro comments, promise to maintain the embargo until that Communist sumbitch was dead, and collect the solid Cuban vote wrapped up in a corn meal tamale.

I recall clearly a campaign stop then Sen. Barack Obama made in Miami at the ancient and rather small and dingy Miami Auditorium in late 2007. Although Obama was still pretty much a cipher to most Americans, he was considered enough of a threat to merit an official Cuban demonstration across the street from the venue, complete with waving fists, angry chants and grammatically innovative signs. It was almost as if they sensed that Obama was going to open up Cuba, lo, these eight years later, which was at the time anathema to the Miami Cuban bloc.

But with the arrival in Havana yesterday of the first U.S. cruise ship in almost 50 years and with Donald Trump seemingly intent on shredding the GOP, it appears it’s the end of an era, or “error,” as the wags like it. Indeed a Miami Herald article today sports this headline: Will Donald Trump drive Miami Cuban Americans from GOP? New poll says yes.

Local Cuban Americans dislike Trump so much — and are increasingly so accepting of renewed U.S.-Cuba ties pushed by Democratic President Barack Obama — that Trump’s likely presidential nomination might accentuate the voters’ political shift away from the GOP, according to the survey shared with the Miami Herald and conducted by Dario Moreno, a Coral Gables pollster and a Florida International University associate politics professor.

Moreno notes that although his recent polling showed 38 percent of local Cuban voters back Trump, and that number is still higher than Hillary Clinton’s 31 percent, it is scores of percentile points away from where it would have been only a few years ago and puts Clinton within “striking distance” of gaining a majority among the demographic.

Moreno, a republican who has conducted polling for Lil’ Marco Rubio before, takes a stance that about 10 percent of those polled took in response to an open-ended question: “I can’t vote for Trump,” Moreno said. “I’m not going to vote for Hillary, but I’m not going to vote for Trump.”

“If you’re in a swing district and 10 percent of the Republicans aren’t going to vote — 10 percent of the Cuban Americans aren’t going to vote — that’s very dangerous,” Moreno said.

The days of the hard-line position against opening diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba appear to be over in the wake of sweeping demographic changes in South Florida, with 41 percent in favor of re-establishing relations and 51 percent against:

The split is driven by age and year of arrival in the U.S., according to the poll. Cubans ages 18-35 overwhelmingly back the Obama administration’s policy, with 61 percent in favor, and 35 percent opposed, while Cubans older than 75 oppose it by almost the same split, with 64 percent against the policy and 30 percent in favor.

Similarly, 59 percent of Cuban respondents who arrived in the U.S. after 1992 support the policy, while 30 percent oppose it. Seventy-one percent of Cuban respondents who immigrated before 1980 are against it, and 21 percent are for it. The younger Cuban Americans with fewer years in the U.S. also are the most likely to abandon the GOP in the presidential election.

So, if Trump can turn a significant number of usually staunch Cuban American voters into nonvoters or even better — Hillary voters — then he has done a wonderful thing for the Republican Party (put it out of our misery) and for my community (broken the hard-line Cuban political bloc). Does that mean that we’ll ever have a gringo mayor or congressman? Probably not, but it will be a tiny step in that direction.

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