With Florida slipping away from his electoral grasp, Donald Trump devoted much of Tuesday to Miami’s Cuban Americans, the reliably Republican voters who have stubbornly resisted this year to lean decisively toward the GOP nominee.
“I’m humbled by this endorsement from true freedom fighters,” Trump said from a lectern at Little Havana’s Bay of Pigs museum, which doubles as the headquarters for the veterans’ association. “You were fighting for the values of freedom and liberty that unite us all. The same values that are at stake in our election.”
In Doral, he listened to the mother of Brothers to the Rescue pilot shot down by the Cuban government over the Florida Straits.
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“Very sad story,” Trump told Miriam de la Pena.
And he eagerly repeated criticism of rival Hillary Clinton when longtime Miami Republican donor and activist Remedios Diaz-Oliver declared, “She has never done anything right.”
“It’s just about true,” Trump said. “She’s never done a thing right. Bad judgment.”
Trump’s overtures reflected his broader problem two weeks from Election Day: He has yet to consolidate the conservative vote. The more time he spends trying to do so, the less time he’s got to try to persuade independents and moderates who decide general elections.
Polls show Clinton holding on to a 3.3-percentage-point lead over Trump in Florida, according to a Real Clear Politics average. Depending on the survey, Cuban Americans have been either split or only narrowly favoring Trump.
Democrats nearly matched Republicans in mail-in ballots before Monday, the start of the in-person early-voting period in which Democrats usually do a better job of getting their voters to the polls.
Yet Trump has insisted throughout his three-day Florida trip that he’s winning. The metrics he cited Tuesday morning? “They all seem to have Trump stickers,” he said of early voters at the polls.
When it comes to Cuba, Trump has avoided specifics. He said at a Miami rally last month that he would demand “religious and political freedom for the Cuban people, and the freeing of political prisoners.” And he has made it a staple of his Florida speeches to mention Cubans and Venezuelans, even in the north and southwest portions of the state where relatively few of them live.
Trump told the Miami Herald in August he intended to sit down with Cuban Americans before fleshing out a detailed Cuba policy. The closest he came to doing so was a brief visit last month to Little Havana. No policy was discussed; Trump instead heard from a number of fervent supporters who praised him.
In a Sunday interview with Miami Herald news partner WFOR-TV, Trump avoided saying anything concrete about how he’d approach Cuba, other than to reiterate his criticism that President Barack Obama’s deal to reestablish diplomatic relations “is a very weak agreement.”
Pressed on his personal business forays into Cuba, Trump acknowledged in the same CBS 4 interview that several of his top executives traveled to the island for company purposes, as Bloomberg Businessweek reported in July.
“They had some meetings,” Trump said.
Newsweek reported Trump’s company broke the Cuban trade embargo in 1998, when it paid a consultant to explore business opportunities there. The following year, Trump told Miami’s Bay of Pigs veterans Fidel Castro was a “killer” and the U.S. should maintain a hard line against his communist regime.
Trump kicked off the day behind his Trump National Doral golf resort, where about 100 employees stood on risers and smiled as Trump thanked them for their work — some of them volunteered laudatory testimonials — and bragged about the property.
“It’s one of the great places on Earth,” Trump said, expounding on his extensive renovations after purchasing the resort in 2012. “We ripped it down to the steel!”
Trump also used the event to deride the Affordable Care Act, after news Monday that premiums for the insurance plans would be going up about 25 percent next year.
“Obamacare is blowing up,” he said.
Then came the roundtable with 15 people, most of them Cuban Americans, including Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and Doral Mayor Luigi Boria, who is of Venezuelan descent.
Trump’s motorcade left Doral late morning for Little Havana, where the Republican nominee basked in his status as the first presidential candidate endorsed by Miami’s Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. In a museum honoring the 2506 Assault Brigade, the vanguard of the failed 1961 invasion, Trump told veterans of the fighting squad that he appreciated their unprecedented support.
The Brigade’s endorsement of Trump comes during the first presidential election after President Barack Obama launched an historic opening of diplomatic and commercial relations between the United States and Cuba, a change that struck at the heart of the anti-Castro position advocated by the Brigade.
“Cuban-Americans converted Miami into the capital of political exiles,” Trump said in a soft, measured tone that was far mellower than the booming delivery seen at his televised rallies. “Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton turns a blind eye to the human rights violations that occur every single day. She turns a blind eye to a lot of things.
“What you are asking for is right,” he told the seated audience of about 100 people, “and what you are asking for is just. The United States should not prop up the Castro regime economically and politically, as Obama has done and as Hillary Clinton plans to do. They don’t know how to make a good deal, and they wouldn’t know how to make a good deal if it was staring at them in the face. ”
Trump also seemed to link Clinton’s perceived ethical missteps with the dangers of dictatorship.
“Those fleeing oppression, whether it be in Cuba, Venezuela or anywhere else, understand first-hand the dangers to liberty when government officials are above the law,” he said. “This election is, among many other things, a referendum on the corruption of Hillary Clinton.”