Donald Trump

Trump learns to play Miami’s ethnic politics

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Miami rally

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, at the James L. Knight Center in Miami
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, at the James L. Knight Center in Miami

Donald Trump offered a little bit Friday to almost every one in Miami. To Cubans, he vowed to reverse President Barack Obama’s reengagement policy. To Venezuelans, he promised to stand with their “oppressed” countrymen. To Haitians, he pledged to be their “champion.”

Fifty-three days before the election, Trump seemed to have finally assimilated a fundamental rule of Miami’s heavily ethnic politics: Candidates must target their messages to each community.

Short on time until Nov. 8, Trump tried to ingratiate himself with several groups in a single afternoon. He dropped by the Little Haiti Cultural Center to meet privately with Haitian-American professionals. Then he raced to downtown Miami’s James L. Knight Center for a pulsating rally attended by some 2,500 people — in spite of horrendous traffic fueled in part by a pair of Friday night concerts by Kanye West and Meghan Trainor.

“Welcome to all of you, deplorables!” he said, riffing off Hillary Clinton’s recent gaffe. For the first time, Trump entered one of his rallies to the tune of “Do You Hear the People Sing,” from the musical “Les Miserables.” The digital screen behind him read: “Les Deplorables.”

“Boy oh boy, we’re going to have a good time tonight!” Trump declared.

Trump sounded more than ever like a traditional Republican nominee, calling Obama’s renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba “one-sided” and helpful only to the Castro regime.

“All of the concessions Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order — which means the next president can reverse them. And that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Not my demands — our demands,” Trump said. “Those demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people, and the freeing of political prisoners.”

Last year, asked about the Obama administration’s pursuit of closer Cuba ties, Trump called the idea “fine.” He stressed in a Miami Herald interview last month that the Obama policy didn’t go far enough in pushing U.S. interests. A recent poll of Miami-Dade County Cubans showed 56 percent approval of Obama’s policy.

Though Trump has yet to sit down with Cuban Americans, as he had told the Herald he planned to do soon, his comments Friday made clear that he’s gotten some coaching from local Republicans. Opening his rally were two Miami Cuban Americans, county GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz and state Rep. Carlos Trujillo. Cuban Americans make up nearly three-quarters of Miami-Dade Republicans.

From Cubans, Trump turned to Venezuelans, a relatively minor voter group by the numbers that nevertheless has an outsized voice in politics, given ongoing turmoil in the South American country.

“Let’s also talk about a place called Venezuela,” Trump said. He asked for a show of hands of Venezuelans in the room, as he had done earlier with Cubans. But the response was vastly quieter. “Whoa — not too many,” Trump lamented.

Much like in the August Herald interview, he provided no concrete Venezuela policy prescriptions. A news release sent to reporters immediately after his speech misspelled the country as “Venezuala.”

Elsewhere in his speech, Trump seemed to channel Gov. Rick Scott. “My economic agenda can be summed up in three words — and you’re going to like these words,” he said. “Jobs, jobs jobs.” He maintained he’d repeal Obamacare — even though South Florida, with its scores of uninsured, has had one of the highest sign-up rates in the country.

At one point, Trump returned to suggesting that, if Clinton advocates gun control, she should have unarmed bodyguards. “Take their guns away,” he said. “Let’s see what happens to her.”

Though security escorted several protesters out of the rally, there were not as many — nor were they as disruptive — as in past local Trump events. Protesters did gather outside both of Trump’s Friday stops, holding a variety of banners that ranged from “SHOW US YOUR TAX RETURNS!!” to “No Trump, No KKK, No Racist USA.”

At the rally, Trump made no mention that, earlier on Friday in Washington, he had accepted — for the first time in eight years — that President Barack Obama was, in fact, born in the U.S.

That statement was intended to move past Trump’s “birtherism,” a crackpot conspiracy theory Trump embraced for years that his advisers feared would be used by Clinton in the rivals’ first debate 10 days from now. Questioning the birthplace of the nation’s first black president has widely been seen as a sign of racism.

“Nobody cares about that,” said Jim Neubauber, a 59-year-old Redland Republican.

Though he didn’t talk about it, Trump seemed to implicitly refer to his birtherism renunciation. Democrats, he said, get into political trouble and “pull out the racist card. … And they are in very big trouble, I have to tell you.”

“I just left Little Haiti,” Trump said. “The love is unbelievable. There’s no racists. There’s no nothing. It’s love.”

He spent about 25 minutes in Little Haiti, mostly blaming Clinton for meddling with Haitian politics and failing to deliver promised money for projects after the country’s crushing 2010 earthquake.

“Whether you vote for me or not, I really want to be your biggest champion,” he said.

Still, the way Trump referred to black voters more broadly in the rally at times appeared patronizing. He falsely stated that most black youth are unemployed. He claimed African Americans “can’t walk down the street” because they’ll get shot, though violent crime in the country has gone down overall.

“Some people don’t like it, and I don’t really care,” Trump said, seemingly aware of past criticism of similar remarks. “What do you have to lose?”

Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.

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