Last week, the Democratic Super PAC Priorities U.S.A. launched a social media ad campaign that's created a lot of buzz in South Florida.
It's called #CaudilloDay. (“Caudillo” is Spanish for a dictatorial ruler.) The posts accuse President Trump of being the sort of authoritarian figure Latin American exiles here have escaped back in their home countries – and they’re a rebuttal to Trump's claims that the Democrats are socialists like the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.
Daniela Martins created #CaudilloDay. She’s based in Miami and directs Priorities U.S.A.’s Hispanic media and Florida outreach. Martins spoke with WLRN’s Tim Padgett and Alejandra Martinez about the attack ad campaign, capturing the Hispanic vote in Florida – and how the Bernie Sanders controversy might affect that effort.
Excerpts from their conversation:
PADGETT: Daniela, you're from Bolivia. You understand how awful many of Latin America's caudillos have been. So Republicans might ask: If you think it's unfair for President Trump to compare Democrats to dictators like Fidel Castro, why is it OK for Democrats to compare Trump to Castro – or other tyrants like Hugo Chávez or Augusto Pinochet, as the #CaudilloDay ads do?
MARTINS: It’s this taste for authoritarianism that we recognize instantly in Donald Trump: the open attacks on the free press, the undermining of democratic institutions, like using the judicial system to enact his personal vendettas, the public intimidation of whistleblowers. These are way too similar to everything so many Latinos like myself in Florida have seen – and we know how it ends.
I think it’s preposterous to look at Democratic policies, which are no stranger to American history and once made this a fantastic country where the American dream was possible and working families could have a fair chance at getting ahead. Those policies have nothing to do with the fear-mongering rhetoric Republicans are using against Democrats that are frankly just playing into the collective trauma of so many Latinos like myself.
But the Democratic presidential frontrunner, Senator Bernie Sanders, has opened himself up to accusations that he sympathizes with or at least apologizes for the authoritarian regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. Does that worry you?
Priorities USA is candidate-agnostic and we're going to support whoever comes out of the Democratic [primary] campaign.
But if he does become the party's candidate, does that create a concern for you?
[Sanders’ remarks] are not attacks on any democratic institution such as Trump shows us he's attacking every single day.
Alright. The people sounding warnings about Trump and caudillos or strongmen in Latin America in #CaudilloDay posts are Florida Hispanics. How did you find them?
We heard from Florida Latinos about rising costs of health care and the economy. But we also kept hearing over and over again their concerns about this president's rhetoric – his making jokes about staying in office a third term, a fourth term. We remember when those were jokes in Venezuela, in Bolivia.
Have Trump’s “socialist” accusations hurt the Democratic Party with Hispanics in Florida, especially South Florida, because at the same time he’s pursuing policies to overthrow socialist dictatorships in Latin America?
I would question that premises. I think President Trump’s tired rhetoric around Venezuela is just paying lip service to the Venezuelan community. If he was serious about fighting for the Venezuelan community he could sign Temporary Protected Status [TPS] for Venezuelan immigrants tomorrow if he wanted to, especially those Venezuelans fleeing their humanitarian crisis. That is entirely within his power. He doesn’t because of his anti-immigrant, anti-Latino politics.
MARTINEZ: Many younger Latinos may not be as conscious of the history of caudillos in Latin America. Do you think young Latinos are less affected when President Trump calls Democrats socialists?
MARTINS: My Latino community is very family-centered, which means there's a lot of kitchen table conversations about family experiences. So I'm not certain that I would look at it that way, because we sit with our parents and grandparents and tías and tíos over el cafecito en la mañana or over el tecito, and I am very deeply aware of the history my parents went through with their autocratic governments.
We’re working on a project with PRI’s “The World” looking at young first-time Latinx voters. It's called “Every 30 Seconds” because that's how often someone who's Latinx turns 18 in the U.S. Young Latinos typically lean more Democrat – so are you working on voter turnout?
Yes, turnout is going to be the most important piece. Right now, we're talking about the issues that they care about. A big part of our program is on Google Search. They're Googling issues: if they Google how to pay off my student loans or how to get affordable health care, that's how we're approaching them.
And what have you seen of the top issues for young Latino voters?
Climate change is an issue that young Latinos care about, especially in Florida, where we see the effects firsthand. They're concerned about despite that everyone says that the economy might be doing well, they're not feeling it, despite how hard they're hustling. That dream of getting ahead looks further away.
In last week’s Democratic debates, the candidates were asked about Latin American issues. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was asked why she couldn’t remember the name of the president of Mexico at an earlier press event ahead of the debate. (His name is Andrés Manuel López Obrador.) Was that a reminder that Democrats have to be pushed harder to engage Latin America?
Democrats have shown over and over that they have a much more humane political position with Latinos here and overseas. The President’s [Latin American] policy positions are absolutely toxic. He’s cutting foreign aid to multiple Central American countries that desperately need it, and that’s contributing to further chaos there – and the immigration system here as well.
Next week WLRN will speak to a director of a Republican PAC about GOP efforts to attract more Hispanic voters.