If Republican candidate Donald Trump wins Florida, as some polls predict, and goes on to win the Nov. 8 election — a big if, but not an impossible outcome — he might have President Obama to thank for lending him a hand in the final stretch of the race.
Obama’s Oct. 14 decision to further relax the U.S. embargo on Cuba by allowing American tourists to bring back unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars, as well as his Oct. 26 decision to abstain for the first time in a United Nations vote against the U.S. embargo on Cuba, have probably pushed many undecided Cuban Americans in Florida to vote for Trump.
“Cubans return to Trump,” read a sub-headline of The New York Times Upshot/Siena University poll released Oct. 27, which gave Trump a four-point lead in Florida. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was leading in the same poll only a month earlier.
The poll’s explanatory text by The New York Times’ Nate Cohn said that Trump’s surprising comeback in Florida — the most important swing state — might be thanks to Cuban American voters. Trump’s support among Cuban-American voters in Florida was at 52 percent, up from 33 percent in September, the story said.
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Pollsters say it’s hard to pin down what exactly caused the shift among Cuban American voters, but Obama’s most recent decisions on Cuba most likely hurt Clinton in Florida.
Granted, a Florida International University Cuban Research Institute poll released in September showed that 54 percent of Cuban Americans in Miami support Obama’s — and Clinton’s — stand that it’s time to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. But the poll included recently arrived Cubans who aren’t yet eligible to vote.
If it had been a poll only of Cuban American voters, the result would have been different. The same poll shows that older Cuban Americans — who tend to vote in big numbers — are more hard-line toward Cuba and are at least twice as likely to oppose Obama’s normalization with Cuba than younger and recently arrived Cuban Americans.
In conversations with many Cuban Americans, I found that even among those who cautiously support Obama’s normalization with Cuba, many say he’s offering too many concessions to the island’s dictatorship without getting anything in return. Resuming diplomatic relations was OK, they say, but why keep making unilateral gestures in the absence of any political opening on the island?
According to a new report from the Havana-based independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a total of 9,215 people were arrested during the first 10 months this year for political reasons, already more than the 8,616 arrested during the 12 months of 2015.
And Trump — the ultimate political chameleon, who until recently was supporting a normalization of ties with Cuba and whose casino companies, according to a Newsweek report, had explored business opportunities in Cuba in violation of U.S. laws in 1998 — seized the occasion to present himself in Miami as a crusader for hard-line anti-Castro stands.
During an Oct. 25 visit to Miami, Trump met with the Bay of Pigs Veterans’ Association and accused Obama and Clinton of “helping” the Cuban regime. He obviously neglected to mention that he himself supported the same normalization policies until a few weeks ago.
My opinion: Obama, and Clinton, too, probably misread opinion polls showing that Cuban Americans in Florida increasingly support ever-growing ties with Cuba’s dictatorship. That may be true among all Cuban Americans, as the university poll shows, but not necessarily among Cuban American voters.
I wonder what Obama was thinking when he signed the Cuban rum and cigars order — a largely symbolic measure — and when he voted to abstain on the embargo at the U.N., just a few weeks before the U.S. elections. What was the rush to press the normalization pedal just now?
Most likely, it was overconfidence in a Clinton victory, along with a selfish effort to continue exploiting what the Obama administration sees as one of its major foreign-policy triumphs. Whatever it was, it could end up helping the most unstable and dishonest Republican candidate in recent memory win Florida.