In the 2012 election, Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, helping him seal victory over Mitt Romney. Democrats and the media subsequently predicted that Obama’s capture of Hispanics — particularly his support among Cubans in Florida — defined a clear future for the party. Indeed, after the Obama administration’s “Cuban Thaw” policies and the president’s trip to Cuba in 2016, Democrats thought they would swing a generation of Cubans into their camp.
These predictions, however, may prove to have been more premature than prescient. A Florida International University 2020 poll released in early October found that 59 percent of Cubans in South Florida say they will vote for President Trump. Moreover, according to a report from Equis Research, Trump’s anti-socialism and anti-Left messaging resonates with “post-93” Cubans, who arrived in America during the 1994 rafter crisis.
In such data points, Giancarlo Sopo, the director of rapid response for Spanish Language Media at Trump’s reelection campaign, sees another electoral shift underway. While the president continues to fall behind Joe Biden in battleground Florida polls — where the Cuban vote is most crucial — Sopo nevertheless maintains this is a shift that will “outlive Joe Biden’s campaign.”
Recently he spoke with National Review to shed light on what he argues are political trends that have alienated Cubans and other Hispanic groups from the Democratic Party — and to discuss his own personal journey from Democrat to Trump booster.
Sopo grew up with his sister in a modest duplex in Little Havana, Miami, and was a moderate Democrat for most his life. His single mother worked for over 15 years, saving enough money to start a small business, which gave her the means to move the family into the suburbs. Sopo mentions that without access to public school and Medicare coverage for her parents, his mother’s success story might not have been possible.
“Government can help those who cannot otherwise help themselves and invest in public education, roads, and utilities. But you also need to provide people with a long runway to take-off in pursuit of their dreams,” Sopo explained. This is, in part, what drew him to the moderate wing of the Democratic Party when he was young: “I care most about the poor and having mechanisms in place to help them, through both a safety net and private charity.”
Around 2015, though, Sopo perceived a change in the Democratic Party’s rhetoric. “I started noticing that the messaging of the party had shifted away from the Clinton-era focus on equality of opportunity to inequality,” he said. In 2018, after Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez deemed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the future of the party, Sopo felt increasingly uncomfortable supporting a party “hijacked by the disciples of Marx and Castro.”
Not only is this ideological shift toward socialism “turning off many Cuban Americans,” Sopo said, but “much of President Trump’s agenda is actually popular with Hispanics.”
“We see poverty going down in our communities, and our incomes are reaching record highs,” Sopo noted, citing a 2019 report from the U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty rate for Hispanics dropped to an all-time low of 15.7 percent during the Trump administration. Ten years ago, the rate was over 25 percent.
“When you juxtapose that with media narratives about Hispanics — that we’re single-issue voters who view ourselves as victims in this country — it’s not surprising that we are now seeing an electoral shift that will outlive Joe Biden’s campaign,” Sopo said.
The open question, however, is whether this “shift” will largely involve Cuban voters returning to the GOP — or presage a broader trend among Latino voters.
For now, the Democratic Party generally remains popular with Hispanics. Despite the growing support for Trump among South Florida Cubans, Biden leads Trump among Hispanics 62-29 percent in the battleground of Arizona, according to the Equis Research poll. Nationally among Hispanics, Biden held a 62-26 percent lead over Trump in late September.
Biden’s lead among Hispanics, which trails where Hillary Clinton was in 2016, could slip as the Democratic Party and media partisans push for far-reaching policies, such as the defunding of police. The violent riots that cost lives and over a billion dollars in property damage “reminded many Hispanics of the social unrest that our families experienced in Latin America,” Sopo said. “That’s not something that we’re used to here in the United States. We value safe communities. We respect the police; we understand that they’re keeping our community safe.”
There is also the issue of “cancel culture.”
Over the summer, Black Lives Matter protesters heckled guests leaving the White House after the Republican National Convention and accosted Senator Rand Paul. Democrats also declined to condemn the massive boycott of Goya Foods and CEO Robert Unanue, who praised Trump for helping impoverished Hispanics. Both incidents “reminded a lot of Cubans of the actos de repudio that happen in Castro’s Cuba where people are harassed for their political beliefs,” Sopo said.
But as Sopo reflects on his political journey from Clinton voter in 2016 to Trump campaign director in 2020, he still argues there is a detachment between politicians, the media, and the average Hispanic family. “We love our families, care about our schools and our churches. We believe in the American dream and work hard to thrive. Politicians and reporters on the left who fail to understand this are in for a rude awakening.”