MIAMI — After several discussions with his mother-in-law over the upcoming presidential elections, Henry López, 49, said he now only receives texts from her.
Many of them contain social media posts with misinformation about how the United States will be on the brink of socialism if Joe Biden is elected president, including how Democrats want to take money from the rich to give to the poor.
Lopez’s in-laws fled Nicaragua after the 1979 leftist Sandinista revolution. His mother-in-law supports President Donald Trump and sees him as an anti-socialist crusader who will prevent the ideology from taking over the United States.
López, like other Biden supporters in Miami, is in a bizarre situation of trying to repeatedly explain to relatives and friends that he — and Biden — are not socialists.
“I explain that we have checks and balances in this country, that Trump is not really a Republican and has taken over the party,” López, who works in tech, said. “Trump is a narcissist and it’s all about him."
This election year, the excitement among Latinos in Miami who support Trump is palpable, amid rallies, massive caravans organized at a grassroots level and a Trump salsa song that has gone viral. It’s a stark change from the more timid tone his supporters took in 2016 — and frustrating for Miami Democrats who point out Trump's lack of a coordinated response to fight Covid-19 or his attacks on the Affordable Care Act.
Polls show Trump is doing better in Democratic leaning Miami-Dade County than he did in 2016, which worries Democrats. Hillary Clinton won the county by about 300,000 votes. Today, it feels more like a red county.
Around 70 percent of the population is Latino, and a common thread among many Trump supporters is that they come from countries that have been impacted by communism or socialism, such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The Trump administration's constant messaging that a vote for Biden will eventually lead to socialism in the U.S. has been extremely effective.
One reason for the enthusiasm among Latinos over Trump is due to the “extraordinary level of attention the administration has given Cuban Americans and other Latino groups,” said Eduardo Gamarra, a Florida International University political science professor.
Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and former national security adviser John Bolton have traveled to Miami in the past to announce measures and sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
“This is a community that appreciated being courted, and for good or evil, the president has done it,” Gamarra said.
Democrats including Biden have been pushing back, pointing out that Trump has not given temporary protected status to Venezuelans or moved the needle on human rights in Venezuela or Cuba.
But Gamarra said there's a perception among Latino Trump supporters that although Biden won the Democratic presidential nomination, the agenda that "won" is that of the party's more leftist candidates, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Though this may be hard to understand, "this mobilizes this population,” he said.
Also stirring voters is the Spanish-language disinformation going around social media and WhatsApp groups — some from outside the U.S. — that links Democrats and their supporters to global socialist conspiracies. This disinformation is widely shared through Facebook, YouTube and family texts.
Family gatherings — and politics
For Maria Corina Vegas, a Venezuelan American Biden supporter, fighting against the socialism branding has become routine with her family.
The 53-year-old attorney said she constantly receives text messages from relatives on WhatsApp full of conspiracy theories, including QAnon.
When it comes to the Trump supporters in her life, Vegas said, "It’s really hard to talk to them from a rational point of view."
She said she recently attended a small family gathering at her cousin’s house and quickly noticed the Trump sign outside as she arrived with her Biden bumper sticker.
She said they discussed politics the entire time.
“They think Biden is a centrist, but they think he’s too old and it will be Kamala Harris in control," said Vegas, who volunteers with the Venezolanos con Biden support group.
Vegas pushes back by telling her family that she sees parallels between Trump and Hugo Chávez, the late authoritarian socialist leader of Venezuela. Democrats like Vegas have been pointing out Trump's disregard of independent government agencies and, more recently, his refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election.
Vegas' mother-in-law left El Salvador’s political turmoil, which saw a long civil war that pitted a leftist guerrilla group against the United States-backed Salvadoran right-wing government. She sees Democrats as socialists who want to raise taxes on the wealthy. Some of her friends from Guatemala and other countries are married to Cubans, and they are all Trump supporters. Vegas said she will sometimes get into discussions with them.
“I think my mother-in-law is embarrassed about me,” she said.
Democrats have been holding their own pro-Biden caravans, which recently reached over 1,000 cars, every weekend, as well as periodic rallies.
Last weekend, when Donald Trump Jr.’s anti-socialist bus tour made its final stop in Miami, the Miami Freedom Project, a progressive organization aimed at encouraging voting and civic participation, joined other organizations and held a candlelight vigil nearby in honor of the more than 200,000 people who have been killed by Covid-19 in the United States.
Florida for All, a coalition of progressive organizations, installed two billboards in the city of Doral, the heart of the Venezuelan community, with one saying, “Tufo a tirano,” or, “It smells like a tyrant,” in reference to Trump.
Also in Doral, the coalition covered over a dozen benches with pro-Biden banners in several locations including bus stops and public parks. Some the banners say in Spanish, “They make more noise, but we are more.” Other banners say, “Don’t let them bully you."
“Venezuelans are being bullied if they support Biden. They are often accused of being socialists by other Venezuelans,” said Natalia Jaramillo, communications director for Florida for All.
Vegas said it goes beyond family discussions: “I know Venezuelan business owners who are afraid to say they support Biden because they feel it will hurt their business.”