Republicans aim socialism accusation at Florida audience
Speakers from Florida at this week’s Republican National Convention sounded the alarm over what they called the threat of socialism in the Democratic Party, seeking to appeal to voters in the nation’s largest swing state who are deeply apprehensive about the ideology.
The message was aimed primarily at Florida’s large senior population and voters in the southern portion of the state, an area that has for decades been shaped by Cuban exiles who fled communist rule and is now also home to the largest Venezuelan population in the U.S.
Florida’s first female Cuban American lieutenant governor, Jeanette Núñez, gave one of the starkest warnings, invoking her parent’s story of fleeing Cuba under Fidel Castro’s rule in 1959.
“The radical left systematically chisels away at the freedoms we cherish. They peddle dangerous ideologies, tower to global progressives and normalize socialism to dismantle our Constitution,” Núñez said.
Republicans say the strategy has the potential to pay dividends in a state that President Trump cannot afford to lose.
Just this week, a battleground states poll from CNBC and Change Research showed the president trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 3 points. The former vice president also holds a 3.7-point advantage in the Real Clear Politics polling average of the Sunshine State.
“When it comes to the battleground states in play, the charge of socialism itself has more gravitas in Florida,” said Florida-based GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.
“Voters in Florida tend to be older,” O’Connell added. “It has a lot more gravitas than say with younger voters who don’t really know what it means.”
“Also, you have a large number of folks who recently just came from socialist countries, whether it’s Venezuela [or] Cuba,” he said.
Warnings of socialism haven’t been limited to Floridians.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley claimed in a Monday speech that Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-Calif.) “vision for America is socialism.”
Mark McCloskey, the St. Louis man who, along with his wife, has been criminally charged for waving guns at protesters outside their home, described Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush as a “Marxist revolutionary” before concluding that “this is Joe Biden’s party.”
And Trump himself sought to cast the former vice president as “a Trojan horse for socialism.”
Republicans say the message plays well nationwide, but hits particularly hard in Florida.
“There are people in my grandfather’s generation, who never thought Cuba would be a socialist country,” said Nelson Diaz, the chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party. “Certainly for Hispanics, the possibility of a socialist government is much more real.”
Diaz acknowledged that the socialist moniker had long been used by Republicans as “kind of an empty, veiled attack” on Democrats. But he said that the rising influence of self-described democratic socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) within the Democratic Party has made the criticism more concrete.
“Back in the day when Republicans called democrats socialists, it was always kind of an empty, veiled attack,” he said. “But it’s no longer an empty attack. It’s a very real scenario.”
“No one thinks Joe Biden is going to become a strongman,” Diaz continued. “But policies will start to get enacted that will start to go down a socialist path.”
One of the most emotional convention speeches on the topic came from Florida businessman Maximo Alvarez, whose family fled Cuba when he was 13 during Castro’s takeover of the country.
Alvarez warned that ideas touted by liberals, such as free health care for all, “sound familiar” based on his own experiences growing up in Cuba.
“I’m speaking to you today because I’ve seen people like this before,’’ Alvarez said. “I’ve seen movements like this before. I’ve seen ideas like this before and I’m here to tell you, we cannot let them take over our country.”
He added that recent unrest in a number of American cities have reminded him of what happened during the Cuban Revolution.
“The country I was born in is gone, totally destroyed,” he said. “When I watch the news in Seattle and Chicago and Portland, when I see history being rewritten, when I hear the promises — I hear echoes of a former life I never wanted to hear again. I see shadows I thought I had outrun.”
However, some Republicans warn that the message does not necessarily have widespread appeal among the state’s electorate.
“Unless somebody has really experienced it from the core and have run away from it, and really had the challenges of their family impacted, it’s not a big ticket item to say that that’s going to motivate people to go to the polls and vote,” said former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who served under former Gov. Rick Scott’s (R ) administration.
Polling shows that socialism is not necessarily viewed negatively by Americans. A Gallup survey conducted last year found that 43 percent of respondents say that some form of socialism would be a good thing for the country, while 51 percent said it would be a bad thing.
To be sure, capitalism is still viewed as more positive across the board in the U.S. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released in January showed 52 percent of respondents had a positive view of capitalism, while only 16 percent had a negative one.
It may also prove difficult to paint Biden as a socialist. The former vice president courted moderate and center-left voters throughout the Democratic presidential primary, resisting many of the more liberal policies embraced by Sanders.
And there’s also evidence that voters see Biden and Harris as less extreme than Trump and Vice President Pence. A Morning Consult-Politico poll released earlier this month found that voters placed the Democratic candidates closer to the political center than Trump and Pence, who were seen as further to the ideological far right.
As convention Republicans repeatedly hammered Biden as a socialist this week, Sanders dismissed the label, saying it’s simply not the case.
“If you have watched the first two nights of the Republican National Convention, and I am sorry if you have, you have probably seen speaker after speaker accuse Joe Biden and the Democratic Party of being SOCIALISTS,” Sanders said in an email to supporters this week. “If only that were true.”