The aggressive Republican stance on Venezuela reflects an attempt to seduce Latino voters in Florida.
BOGOTÁ — Why has an isolationist U.S. president like Donald Trump suddenly become interventionist in Venezuela? The explanation may be, as U.S. Congressman "Tip" O'Neill once said, that "all politics is local." Especially when it is in your backyard.
While campaigning, Trump was dismissive of the Florida Senator and rival candidate Marco Rubio, whom he called Little Marco. He suggested Rubio did no work because he had one of the worst records of attendance at Senate sessions. The contempt was mutual. Rubio referred to Trump's small hands, "and you know what they say about men with small hands."
Trump addresses Venezuelan-Americans in Miami, Florida on Feb. 18 — Photo: The White House.
It may be surprising then, as the New York Times has observed, that Senator Rubio has worked so hard to educate Trump about, and boost his interest in Latin America, practically forging and coordinating from the Senate a foreign policy directed against Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro. This energetic, proactive approach is perhaps explained by Florida's crucial role in assuring any presidential candidate's victory in the U.S. electoral system. It is not only the state that most closely reflects national behavior, but also has the highest number of Electoral College votes among swing states. Above all, it is the state where the "white" vote for Trump is least decisive. Florida's large Hispanic population determined the Republicans' 2-3% advantage over the Democrats in the last elections, so the party is particularly dependent on this sector of voters. And in Florida, where Venezuela has gradually replaced Cuba as the issue of major concern for Hispanic voters, their perception of Trump's ability to overthrow Maduro is a decisive factor in winning the Latino vote.
Latinos would vote for Trump if he can remove Maduro from power.
Rubio knows this and must have explained it to Trump. Presumably, he pointed out that Latinos would vote for Trump in spite of his disdain and prejudices against them, if he can remove Maduro from power. Rubio is effectively going all out with Venezuela because he knows his constituents well. Presumably, his support and that of his constituents depend on ending the complacent policies presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama initially had towards Venezuela.
Recent polls must have been giving Trump wind of this reality. The website Politico cites one indicating that only 40% of Florida voters would back a second Trump term, while 53% oppose his reelection. As the pollster Fernand Amandi told the website, if you were a politician facing such dismal support rates, you would inevitably "spend more time consolidating your base."