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Political Paella: Why The 'Goyaffair' Could Really Hurt – Or Really Help – Trump

BOYCOTT TARGET Goya CEO Robert Unanue speaking at the White House last Thursday.


Paella just got political.

Thanks to remarks Goya Foods CEO Robert Unanue made at the White House last week – “We’re all truly blessed…to have a leader like President Trump” – the rice, oil, saffron, chorizo and peas millions of Hispanics stir into dishes like paella and arroz con pollo are now the tasty targets of viral campaigns like #BoycottGoya and #Goyaway. And I’m not exaggerating when I suggest this food fight could be a factor in the November presidential race.

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First let me be clear: I’m not knocking Unanue for supporting the President. He believes Trump is, as he said, the better business “builder” for America, so I respect his political preference. But I question the man’s grasp of corporate p.r. tact.

New Jersey-based Goya, with $1.5 billion in annual revenue, is the nation’s largest distributor of Hispanic-oriented foods. About 80 percent or more of its customers are Hispanic.

As in: the same group that’s been Trump’s favorite bullseye for racist insults since he launched his presidential campaign in 2015 calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.” The same folks whose families the Trump Administration wrenched apart at the border. The same hurricane victims he mockingly tossed paper towels at in Puerto Rico.

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A man who runs a company whose customer base has borne that kind of contempt from a President of the United States probably shouldn’t deliver the kind of gushing praise Unanue heaped on that President of the United States. There were ways Unanue could have thanked Trump for helping Goya sell food without smacking the mouths that eat it.

It's not an exaggeration to suggest this food fight could be a factor in November – and the only question is whether it galvanizes anti-Trump or pro-Trump Hispanics more.

The only question now is which faction of Hispanic U.S.A. will be more galvanized by Unanue’s Rose Garden rhetoric: the anti-Trump bloc calling for the boycott of Goya products – or the smaller but still important pro-Trump cohort in pockets like South Florida rushing to defend Unanue, Goya and the President.

If it’s the former, Trump is in bigger trouble than he was before he invited Unanue to the White House looking to snag an endorsement from a top Hispanic business leader. In fact, Unanue’s comments stung many Hispanics more because they question whether his Hispanidad is genuine in the first place.

Unanue lists his ethnicity as Hispanic; and Goya supports several Hispanic charitable causes in the U.S. and Latin America. But technically he’s a descendant of Spaniards – Europeans – and not immigrants from Latin America, as the term is usually applied in the U.S. He’s acknowledged in the past that, aside from Goya, his connection to Hispanic culture in that sense is tenuous at best. That’s why anti-Trump Hispanics I’ve spoken with this week surmise that if he really were more than nominally Hispanic, he’d have reconsidered his comments.

“A lot of Hispanics are probably now feeling that up to now he’s just been exploiting that Hispanic cultural capital in order to reap Goya business capital,” says Guillermo Grenier, a Florida International University sociology professor and an expert on Hispanic affairs.


Which is why the Goyaffair is such potentially bad timing for Trump: it’s come when his presumptive Democratic rival, Joe Biden, is significantly revving up his Hispanic outreach, aiming to equal Trump’s so far million-dollar Spanish-language effort.

Credit Twitter
A typical #BoycottGoya tweet.

Still, the timing may actually be good for Trump.

He was here in Miami last Friday – and, believe me, he will be again before November – because he senses a dip in pro-Trump enthusiasm among the Cuban, Venezuelan and other Hispanic voters he’s counting on to help push him over the top in Florida. The Goya boycott is just the thing to arouse their disgust with America’s “socialist” cancel culture and re-flock to his side. (And unlike Ivanka Trump, they can promote Goya products without running afoul of federal government ethics rules!)

If they do, Biden may be in trouble. Sure, polls show him leading Trump among Hispanics in Florida, but that’s not the point. In 2016 Trump lost the Florida Hispanic vote – but won Florida by a percentage point in no small part because he won about 100,000 more Hispanic votes there than GOP candidate Mitt Romney did in 2012.

In swinging Florida, that’s all it takes for a Republican to cook up a victory. It might be easier than making arroz con pollo.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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