If Donald Trump got the sort of reception from all Hispanics as he did Tuesday in Miami, he might have the election in the bag.
Trump’s brief visit to Little Havana, billed as a town hall-style meeting with Latinos, turned into a lovefest in which no one asked a single question. Instead, one by one, five fervent supporters lavished Trump with praise the day after Hillary Clinton seemed to get under his skin at their first presidential debate. Preliminary Nielsen estimates Tuesday suggested 81.4 million people tuned in, making it the most watched presidential debate ever.
“Good job last night!” a woman in the audience hollered.
“We did very well,” Trump said of his debate performance, citing unscientific snap polls he said showed him having defeated Clinton. “It was an interesting evening, certainly, and big league. Definitely big league.”
His Miami fans assured him many more Hispanics share their admiration for him — even though polls show the Republican struggling mightily with the key electoral demographic.
“Mr. Soon-to-be-President!” attorney Roberto Gonzalez told Trump several times.
“Mr. President!” said Alberto Delgado, doing Gonzalez one better.
Trump, who arrived on stage with no introduction, basked in the political embrace. Polls show him lagging far behind Clinton among Hispanics nationally and in Florida, where Latinos make up about 15 percent of the electorate. But a narrow majority of Republican-leaning Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade County prefer Trump, according to a recent Univision survey.
“That’s so beautiful. Wow,” Trump told Gonzalez, after hearing about how his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala. He had Gonzalez hop on stage so he could shake his hand. Gonzalez, the first person to address Trump, grabbed the microphone again and kept gushing.
The crowd of about 150 people at Miami Dade College’s Koubek Memorial Center appeared to feed off his energy, bursting into occasional chants of “Trump!” and “USA!” The speakers who followed delivered impassioned endorsements of Trump. Four were Cuban American. One was Venezuelan American and spoke through a translator.
“I see the problems. I see them on the news every night,” Trump said of Venezuela. “I’ve got so many friends from Cuba, and they’re so unhappy.” As president, he added, “We’ll make the right deal. We will make the right deal, believe me.”
The half-hour event, MC’ed by Miami Republican state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, began with a short tribute to the late Marlins pitcher José Fernández, who was killed early Sunday in a boating accident along with two of his friends.
“What a talent. What a great person,” Trump said, offering his condolences. “You know, I was just talking to Jeff Loria about José,” he added, referring to the Marlins’ owner. “He’s devastated.”
At the end of the meeting, Trujillo presented Trump with a white long-sleeved guayabera from the Miami-Dade Republican Party.
From there, Trump — accompanied by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a gaggle of top advisers — headed in his motorcade to Versailles Cuban restaurant for an in-and-out stop that included ordering pastelitos, croquetas, empanadas and cafecito. “Arriba Trump!” supporters chanted. (One man got excited thinking it was President Barack Obama who had paid a visit.)
Earlier, Trump attended a lunchtime $25,000-a-head fundraiser at his Trump National Doral golf resort that netted upwards of $1 million, according to one organizer. Another fundraiser was scheduled in Longwood before an evening rally in Melbourne.
The meeting with local Hispanics, in the works and postponed twice since July, drew an invite-only crowd of Day One Trump supporters as well as longtime Republicans who have come around to backing the nominee. Outside, a group of protesters gathered in the rain with anti-Trump signs. At least one argument with a Trump supporter wearing a camouflage “Make America Great Again” hat got heated.
Inside, there was some grumbling about the event being so short and so scripted. A few Trump backers acknowledged his debate could have gone better but didn’t sound worried about his ultimate prospects.
“He needs to take this debate and learn from his mistakes,” said 37-year-old Irina Vilariño of Davie, whose family owns the Las Vegas and La Casita Cuban restaurants. “He has been more presidential. He actually showed some restraint last night, which was nice.”
Pedro Roteta, who along with his wife has been an early and ardent Trump volunteer, said the Republican’s candidacy “has made me feel like a winner.”
The 70-year-old from Kendall, who said he was a political prisoner in Cuba, lauded “what Trump has said about the Chinese and the Arabs and the Muslims — like he said, all these people are the ones who want to destroy this country, starting with this president.”
“I’m like a little kid,” Roteta said of experiencing Trump’s campaign firsthand. “I’m so happy.”
Miami Herald staff writer Monique O. Madan contributed to this report.