Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo lost to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
Donald Trump mocked the Miami man considered by many to represent the future of the Republican Party.
The president, who spent the final stages of the campaign demonizing immigrants, couldn’t bother to pronounce Carlos Curbelo’s name correctly 14 hours after the Cuban-American lawmaker, who voted to repeal Obamacare and helped draft a tax bill that was Trump’s signature legislative achievement, paid for it at the ballot box.
“On the other hand, you had some who decided, ‘Let’s stay away let’s stay away.’ They did very poorly,” Trump said, referring to lawmakers who tried to campaign on their own brand instead of his. “I’m not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it.” He then mispronounced the Miami congressman’s name as Cue-bella.
Trump used his pulpit to declare victory over the last remaining members of his party who dared to criticize him publicly. Losing two House seats in Miami-Dade County was no big deal to the president. The president attacked immigrants to run up the score in Republican-leaning areas of Florida for governor candidate Ron DeSantis and U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott. But independent and Democratic voters in South Florida who split their tickets and voted for Republicans for Congress were turned off by his messaging.
Now, there will be just one Cuban-American Republican from South Florida in the House of Representatives for the first time since 1993. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the only member of Congress from Miami who voted for Trump, cruised to reelection on Tuesday night in a Northwest Dade seat that favors Republicans. Curbelo and former TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar came up short, and Curbelo’s loss marks the first time in Miami history that an incumbent Cuban-American running for the House of Representatives lost to a non-Cuban candidate.
Retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, said Trump’s anti-immigrant message in the campaign’s final days spelled doom for Miami Republicans and others running in suburban districts around the country after many voters were already moved to switch allegiances due to intense healthcare messaging from Democrats.
People listened to Trump’s message in Miami and decided, “you know what, I’ve had it with this kind of tone,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “’I’ve had it with this rhetoric and I’m just going to vote Democrat, I can’t come to any other conclusion.’”
Ros-Lehtinen, who thought Trump pronounced Curbelo’s name as “quesadilla” when she first read about his remarks bashing anti-Trump Republicans and bemoaning lawmakers like herself who chose to retire, said the biggest takeaway from Democrats flipping the House is that both parties are now increasingly controlled by members who are ideologically further apart.
“It’s just so demeaning, the way that [Trump] talks about individuals who commit the crime of not agreeing with him,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Election night was terrible for moderate Republicans, just as the Democrats got rid of their Blue Dogs several years ago.”
In Curbelo’s place is Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat with no experience as an elected official who successfully hammered home a healthcare-driven message to flip the West Dade seat that stretches to Key West. The former FIU associate dean becomes the first member of Congress who was born in Ecuador, and her pledge to protect Obamacare became feasible after Democrats won a majority in the House for the first time since 2011.
“Our candidates were together with a message that healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” said Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair Juan Cuba. “Curbelo was good at saying moderate things, but he couldn’t run away from his record of repealing the Affordable Care Act.”
Mucarsel-Powell will be joined in Congress by former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who will become one of the most experienced members of Congress ever. Shalala beat Salazar by six percentage points and will likely take on more responsibility than the average first-year member of Congress, particularly on formulating healthcare policy that can pass Congress or blocking Trump from further dismantling Obamacare.
“The prevailing issue was healthcare,” Cuba said. “I think that voters in Miami-Dade are tired of the hateful rhetoric coming from the White House and surely the lie he told about the migrants south of the border probably didn’t help Curbelo at all. Ultimately though, from my experience knocking on doors, healthcare was the driving message that got us over the finish line.”
But the anti-Trump surge that got Democrats over the line in Miami-Dade did not translate to other parts of the state, where turnout in places like heavily conservative Naples outpaced turnout in Dade and Broward counties. Trump complicated the path to victory for lawmakers like Curbelo, who were good GOP soldiers in left-leaning districts, but he made it easier for conservatives across Florida to get motivated for Scott and DeSantis.
And other pro-Trump groups like the Heartland Institution were more than happy to pile onto the loss of members like Curbelo, who drafted legislation that would have slapped a tax on carbon emissions and started the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers who aimed to address climate change through legislation.
“It’s telling that Carlos Cubelo, the Republican co-chairman of the Climate Solutions Caucus, lost his election,” Heartland Institution president and former member of Congress Tim Huelskamp said. “We began the night with 45 Republican members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, and we will begin the next Congress with less than half that many. So much for trying to attract so-called ‘moderate’ voters by embracing the climate alarmist agenda.”
The loss of Republicans like Curbelo and Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, Utah Rep. Mia Love and Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello — who lamented on Twitter that members like him “lose because of POTUS and have him piss on you” — makes the Republican Party more white, more male and beholden to Trump.
“In Florida, [Trump’s] the person that can make or break a candidate. When you look at the group that Curbelo and I belonged to, we were really smashed,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The House of course flipped to the Democrats, but President Trump won the election.”