In what’s shaping up to be a perfect political storm for the Trump administration, the crisis in Venezuela has offered ample fodder for Republicans who are hoping to counter the influence of the resurgent American left. And as Democratic contenders for the 2020 nomination continue to announce their intentions to run with a focus on “economic justice” – as New Jersey Democratic Cory Booker did Friday morning – the Trump administration is hoping to seize the opportunity to win over more conservative Latino voters in a crucial swing state: Florida.
To this end, Vice President Mike Pence is planning on delivering a sweeping policy speech in Doral, Florida on Friday after he and wife Karen Pence finish meeting with members of the Venezuelan community-in-exile, including former Venezuelan politicians and political prisoners, according to Bloomberg. Pence’s speech comes one week after the administration took the unprecedented step of recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela, before slapping sanctions on the country’s state-run oil company, PDVSA.
And as Democrats back policies like aggressive taxes and “Medicare-for-All”, it’s becoming easier than ever for Republicans to paint Democrats and the Socialist party of Nicolas Maduro with the same brush.
“A lot of what the Democratic candidates are proposing is closer to socialist policy than any other major policy proposals we’ve seen in the last 20 or 30 years,” said Lanhee Chen, head of Stanford University’s domestic policy studies program and former policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “A confiscatory wealth tax, a single-payer health system – these are all things you would find in a socialist country, quite frankly.”
Florida politicians have been notably outspoken in condemning the depredations of the Maduro regime – Marco Rubio, who has unleashed an almost unceasing stream of tweets about Venezuela since the US backed Guaido – being one key example. For Venezuelans who have flocked to “little Caracas” and the large Cuban community in and around Miami, politicians condemning “socialism” have typically offered a lot of clout. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ warnings about challenger Andrew Gillum wanting to turn Florida into another Venezuela have been credited with helping him emerge victorious with a razor-thin margin.
And as another political commentator noted, 202 is right around the corner.
“Venezuela matters a lot down here,” said Brian Fonseca, director of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University. “And I know that there is no doubt Florida politics is part of this. 2020 is right around the corner, and Florida is a very important swing state; it always has been.”
Pence has been credited with taking a leading role in establishing the US’s Venezuela policy, and is expected to be accompanied by DeSantis, Rubio Representative Mario Diaz-Balart and Senator Rick Scott, all of whom were notably present at the White House on Jan. 22.
Some 125,000 Venezeulans are believed to be living in South Florida, part of an estimated 3 million living in exile around the world. Many have fled to neighboring countries like Brazil, Colombia and Peru. With the US ratcheting up pressure on Venezuela every day, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Pence could include new revelations about the administration’s efforts to topple Maduro.