President Donald Trump is making another one of his pricey, taxpayer-funded trips to his Mar-a-Lago estate this weekend. And, lucky us, he’ll be in Miami for Presidents’ Day.
If you believe the rhetoric, he’ll be here for Venezuela — to dislodge that scoundrel Nicolás Maduro with a speech from the podium at Florida International University. If you believe his supporters, the president is here to support and embolden interim president Juan Guaidó, whose life is on the line every day that he calls for free, verified elections in his country.
But if Trump’s ultimate goal were to influence a positive outcome in Venezuela, he’d be in Washington or abroad carrying out some serious diplomacy behind the scenes, perhaps with his friends Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, who support Maduro. His strategy, instead of cranking up a friendly Miami audience, might be to engage in the tough work of convincing complicit third parties to persuade Maduro and his staunch military enablers to leave Venezuela.
Or maybe Trump would be working to get U.S. aid across the border from Colombia to desperate Venezuelans waging the fight of their lives. What you don’t expect the U.S. president to be doing, at this crucial moment, is playing into Maduro’s hand by strutting his rhetoric in Florida like a peacock his plumes. What Maduro wants the world to believe is that the massive revolt against him is all American-made.
But Trump is already campaigning for re-election in 2020 — and Venezuela is his winning ticket in Florida. It’s Trump first, not Venezuela first.
All those independent voters who lost thousands of dollars from their 401(k)s to the plunges in the stock market brought on by his little trade wars, all those taxpayers now learning that they can’t take deductions — thanks to Trump and the GOP’s tax plan for the wealthy to pay less — need a huge new fear to embrace.
And, as he did with Mexican immigrants and the wall, Trump has found a new trigger point to peddle in the Venezuela example. He revealed it in a neat, rousing patriotic package during the State of the Union address: socialism as the new boogeyman from which Trump will save us.
“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” Trump said.
Up to there, I couldn’t agree more. But then he went on: “Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.
“Tonight,” he added to rousing applause as the camera panned to a somber Sen. Bernie Sanders shrinking in his seat, “we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
Two weeks later, Trump is coming to swing state Florida to deliver another anti-socialism speech that conveniently paints Democrats with an inaccurate broad brush. And he’ll be successful, thanks to Sanders, an independent who ran as a Democrat for president and moved sectors of the party further left, and to the celebrity of freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Trump has to win Florida again to be re-elected — and the anti-socialism formula works marvelously well in this state as political campaign strategy.
The socialists-are-coming message helped Gov. Ron DeSantis win the Florida governorship — and sent his loathed predecessor, Rick Scott, to the U.S. Senate in midterm elections with such razor-thin margins that ballots had to be recounted. DeSantis launched the socialism message early in his campaign by attacking Ocasio-Cortez. He was setting up the narrative. It was the beginning point of painting his opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who wasn’t one by any stretch of the imagination, as a socialist and a communist.
I watched the strategy be put to work on the ground from the microcosm of my suburban Miami precinct, where a Republican campaign poll worker handed out cards to voters, day in and day out during early voting, warning: “We can’t allow what happened in Cuba and Venezuela to happen in this country!”
Although they’re not verbalizing exactly how this would happen, Trump supporters say his speech in Miami on Monday will serve to put more pressure on Maduro to resign and leave the country.
If Ronald Reagan’s speeches in Miami in the era of glasnost and perestroika didn’t drive Fidel and Raúl Castro out of Cuba in the late 1980s, nor in the early ‘90s when people were starving after Soviet subsidies ended, I seriously doubt a Trump speech in Miami can move an inch in Venezuela.
It can, however, anger and entrench Maduro more and prolong the bloody conflict and his regime.
Yet, in the ears of the exiled in Florida and for his MAGA nation, Trump’s hawkish anti-socialism has the patina of 2020 gold.