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Latin America Report

Trump SuperPAC: President Confronts LatAm Dictators; Sanders 'Underwater' In Florida

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Andres Leighton
/
AP
HISPANIC HOPES President Trump (facing crowd) cheered by Latinos in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, in September.

Since taking office, President Trump has worked to gain more Latino support in Florida by casting his rival Democrats as socialists – like the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. Last week, WLRN talked to the Democratic SuperPAC Priorities U.S.A. about the Trump's strategy. They claim it’s the President who resembles Latin American dictators.

This week WLRN speaks with Kelly Sadler, a spokesperson for America First Action, a Republican SuperPAC that strongly supports Trump. (Sadler was a communications aide to President Trump but left the White House amid a controversy over remarks she reportedly made about the late Senator John McCain.) Sadler spoke to WLRN’s Tim Padgett and Alejandra Martinez from Washington about the President – and how the GOP plans to attract more Hispanic voters.

Excerpts from their conversation:

PADGETT: Priorities USA claims the style and actions of President Trump are similar to Latin American authoritarian strongmen. They point, for example, to Trump's declaration that he can “do anything I want as President.” But many people have called that comparison an exaggeration. Tell us why you think it's also unfair.

SADLER: This president does not side with authoritarians. He has done more in Central America, trying to help Venezuela, has taken a strong arm against Cuba. So I think that you're seeing Priorities U.S.A., quite frankly, on defense.

READ MORE: Florida #CaudilloDay Creator Defends Trump-Dictator Comparisons, But Quiet on Sanders?

But why do the President and so many Republicans then feel it's fair to compare Democrats to the socialist autocrats who run countries like Cuba and Venezuela?

Well, because you have the Democratic frontrunner right now, Bernie Sanders, who just went on “60 Minutes” praising Fidel Castro and [his] literacy programs as if that excuses the murderous regime…

Just for the record, though, Bernie Sanders did say on “60 Minutes” that he “condemns the authoritarian nature of Cuba.”

But, you know, this is a man who honeymooned in the Soviet Union, who took the side of the Sandinistas against President Reagan, defending communist regimes, trying to promote socialism. And this is a direction this country definitely does not want to go in or take. We do not want a government overtake of our private industries, of which Bernie Sanders is advocating, like Medicare-for-all. Now, this would eliminate private health care insurance; it would eliminate the private health care insurance of millions of Americans.

Florida's Hispanic population is very different than Nevada's. People come from parts of the world where they've seen firsthand how damaging communist regimes are. –Kelly Sadler

But whether or not it’s an exaggeration in Sanders’ case, if you take him out of the equation is it still fair to make that “socialist” accusation against the Democrats in general?

Many of the fellow Democrats on stage with him [have been] talking about things like having, quite frankly, a borderless society where anyone is able to cross into this country and get free health care.

If Bernie Sanders is the Democratic presidential nominee, does that help President Trump in November, especially here in Florida, where Senator Sanders’s Cuba remarks have been so unpopular?

Absolutely. According to our internal polling, specifically with Bernie Sanders in Florida – his favorables to unfavorables – he is underwater throughout the state.

The traditional Democratic playbook [in Florida] is tying in the I-4 corridor, reducing losses in the northeast and the panhandle, then running up the score in Miami. We see Sanders in the I-4 corridor 40 percent favorable, 54 percent favorable; in the panhandle 27 percent favorable, 66 percent unfavorable – and in Miami 46 percent favorable, 48 percent unfavorable. In Florida in 2016, Hillary Clinton won the Hispanic vote by, like, 27 points. Right now Bernie Sanders among Hispanics in Florida is underwater by 25 points, according to our internal polling.

There's no way if he becomes the nominee that Florida is still even in play.

(Editor's note: After WLRN's conversation with Sadler, Saint Leo University released a poll this week showing Bernie Sanders ahead of President Trump in Florida, 49 percent to 40 percent.)

READ MORE: This Election, Are You a Young Latino Voting for the First Time?

MARTINEZ: Kelly, I'm working on a project with PRI’s “The World” called “Every 30 Seconds.” It’s looking at young, first-time Latinx voters because nearly every 30 seconds someone who's Latinx turns 18. Sanders typically does well with younger Latino voters. Do you think the socialist label Sanders has gotten is something that bothers young Latino voters?

SADLER: You know, if you look at Nevada, where you have a larger Mexican population, obviously you had a large turnout among the youth – whereas the Florida Hispanic population is very different. You get more into the Venezuelans, into the Nicaraguans, into the Puerto Ricans, the Cubans. And historically, they come from different parts of the world where they have seen firsthand how damaging communist regimes are. And if their grandparents fled from a country, I'm sure they've heard that story within their household.

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Ron Sachs
/
AP

President Trump's critics say his immigration policies, and especially how he talks about immigrants, don't really resonate with young Latinx voters. Can you give me an example of how your SuperPAC and the Trump campaign are working to reach them then?

Well, we're trying to reach them with an economic message. When you have Hispanic unemployment rates at the lowest ever recorded, that is a success story. A lot of Latinos are small business owners. And this president has made it a lot easier for small business owners to get loans and start a business and not be hampered by all of the federal regulations. His economic policies are lifting everyone up, and that is a message that we want to get out there.

But is immigration the No. 1 issue for young Latinos, or do they point to other issues?

We’re looking at this a little differently. We, as America First Action PAC, the President’s SuperPAC, [are] playing in six states, must-win states, Florida being one of them, and Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. We’re seeing what are the hot-button issues that could push somebody into the President’s camp, [such as] this concept of free health care to illegal immigrants. Overwhelmingly, U.S. citizens do not like this policy – including the majorities in each of those states. [We’ll see] how that trickles down to young voters.

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Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.