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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Biden Should Raise More Hell About Trump’s Betrayal of Puerto Rico

I was glad to read Matt Dixon’s Politico article, “Biden woos Puerto Ricans in Florida — and gives new hope to state Democrats,” in light of the buzz about Biden’s lagging support from Spanish-speaking voters in the largest swing state. It appears Biden is doing a good job of addressing this concern. As Dixon writes,

Buoyed by promised ad buys, new hires and Joe Biden’s visit on Tuesday to Kissimmee — home to a sizable Puerto Rican population — Florida Democrats are growing more confident of the party’s chances with Hispanic voters as Election Day approaches.

Florida Democrats haven’t been shy about launching attacks at their own candidate and party leadership as Biden and Donald Trump remain neck and neck in the battleground state. But that tune is changing after Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, made a stop in Miami last week and Biden chose Kissimmee for his first in-person campaign appearance.

In The Miami Herald, David Smiley, Bianca Acasio Padro and Alex Daugherty note:

Polls have shown a tightening race in the state — a must-win for President Donald Trump — and suggest that Biden is struggling to win over Latino voters. An Equis Research survey of more than 1,000 Latinos in Florida completed Aug. 25 found Biden up 53% to Trump’s 37% in the state. That’s well ahead of Trump but behind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 support. Among Puerto Ricans, who make up about one-third of Florida’s 2.4 million Hispanic voters, the Equis Research poll found Biden up 62% to 28% over Trump.

In Kissimme Biden outlined a far-reaching relief plan to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation following Hurricane Maria. Biden’s plan will “make it easier for Puerto Rico to get federal assistance after years of fighting with the Trump administration for help in the wake of devastating natural disasters, boost payments to the island’s Medicare Advantage System and expand coronavirus services.” His plan would also restore utilities. Dixon notes, further,

For years, the political fight for Florida’s Hispanic vote has centered on South Florida, home to huge patchwork of Hispanic voters, including conservative-leaning Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. That focus is starting to shift to Central Florida, where more than 1 million Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans have become a powerful voting block that has helped offset conservative Cuban voters. Florida’s complex Hispanic electorate now makes up 17 percent of all registered voters.

“We are going to have a full-court press in the Central Florida region,” Biden campaign adviser Christian Ulvert said. “The Puerto Rican vote is critical, and the campaign is going to work hard to earn every one of their votes.”

I hope that Biden’s visit will be followed by a tsunami of ads pointedly attacking Trump for his shameful neglect of Puerto Rica’s devastation, holding him accountabvle for his insults of Puerto RTicans and his betrayal of a people who have provided more than their share of military veterans, who have fought courageously under the U.S. flag. Florida has a disproportionate share of active military, as well as veterans (1.5 million), so it wouldn’t hurt to slant some of the ads towards them, urging them to stand in solidarity with Puerto Rican vets. The budget for such an ad campaign is surely in place. As Dixon notes, “Biden’s visit on Tuesday builds on excitement over a $100 million ad pledge from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a portion of which will target Hispanic voters throughout the state. Detailed plans for the commitment have been kept under wraps, but the ad campaign will focus on Hispanic turnout.”

Florida allows only one week of early voting, from Saturday, October 24, 2020 to Saturday, October 31, 2020, with dates and hours varying based on locations. Given the state’s sorry history of voter suppression, Democrats will emphasize banking as many early votes as possible.

4 comments on “Biden Should Raise More Hell About Trump’s Betrayal of Puerto Rico

  1. Martin Lawford on

    All form and no substance. Biden says he would support repudiation of Puerto Rico’s debt borrowed between 2012 and 2014 because the island borrowed it in violation of its own statutory debt ceiling. But, that is only $6 billion out of a total of $123 billion which Puerto Rico owes on its bonded indebtedness and unfunded pension obligations. He would also forgive $300 million in disaster loans. That, too, is a drop in the bucket. Puerto Rico’s debt amounts to $35,000 per capita while her income is just $12,000 per capita. This debt is not going to be paid unless Biden would charge it to the U.S. taxpayer, which would be a distinct injustice considering that Puerto Ricans do not pay income tax. Puerto Rico should simply declare bankruptcy.

    • Victor on

      Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy a long time ago. Its debt is already in the process of being restructured. The restructuring will in no circumstance mean that federal government or taxpayers take over PR bond payments.

      What Biden must endorse unequivocally is to wipe out bonds at at level close to or preferably above 90%. Puerto Rico can’t afford to ever get back on its feet and pay this debt. In exchange maybe prohibit Puerto Rico from issuing new debt in the future or at least for like a few decades.

  2. Victor on

    Democrats should have been focusing on registering Puerto Ricans if the party really wanted to leverage this demographic advantage. Even if 28% of Puerto Ricans in Florida are voting for Trump (which shouldn’t be surprising if Democrats actually understood Puerto Rican political culture), this is still an important advantage.

    There are major differences between Puerto Ricans who live in the deep Blue states where Democrats traditionally encounter us (New York, Connecticut, Massachussetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois), the majority of which have now lived in the continental US for at least one and very often several generations, and Puerto Ricans who have been moving to Florida and other Sun Belt states in the past two decades due to the island’s economic depression.

    In both cases it is well documented in political science literature that there are major get out the vote problems as well. But registering newcomers is very low hanging fruit.

    The major issue is that traditionally the Democratic party has ignored Puerto Ricans because in the deep Blue states in the north their vote wasn’t particularly needed, at least at the local level which is where most political contestation takes place. In fact suppressing the Puerto Rican vote was actually a common racist strategy in northern US cities for a long time. Democrats would actually lose statewide offices like Governor than have Puerto Ricans mobilized politically and have us win local offices and challenge local balance of power.

    So when it comes to making effective appeals for registering voters in places like Florida the Democratic party will have to come up with whole new strategies because they can’t copy models from the north because those models either don’t exist and/or are not applicable to the particular culture of newly arrived Puerto Ricans.

    Unlike northern cities where Puerto Ricans arrive to be at least partially craddled in local more liberal (social and political) culture and where there is virtually no presence of the Republican party, in places like Florida Puerto Ricans have options.

    So even if Puerto Ricans don’t fully identify with US politics (you have to understand the particular dynamics of Puerto Ricans nationalism and identity in this regard), those that do become interested in elections will not be automatically steered towards the Democratic party.

    Without peer pressure and without the most rudimentary level of political education from local community and political organizations, Puerto Ricans have only the very little information they got from media back when they lived on the island to count on as a starting point mixed with our political culture derived from Puerto Rico’s own particular and unique political history.

    Democrats need to understand that for Puerto Ricans and many other Hispanics the main source of US news are right wing outlets like CNN en Espanol that are constantly obsessing about Cuba, Venezuela, etc.

    Apart from that framework (socialism is bad for Latin America), US news is reported in Hispanic countries in the most superficial matter possible, often centered exclusively on issues like immigration (framed as a form of racism), even though Hispanics have quite nuanced views on this subject.

    The immigration issue distinguishes Puerto Ricans partially from other Hispanics, as Puerto Ricans are born US citizens. But in fact most Hispanics don’t support anything like an open borders immigration policy. They don’t support it for the United States and they didn’t support it for their countries of origin. Immigration between Latin American countries is a major divisive issue. Hispanics don’t see immigration as a purely racial issue, like Blacks and so many white liberals in the US do, which explains why Blacks are the demographic with the highest levels of support for immigration. Hispanics can distinguish between racism and xenophobia in ways that more educated white liberals can’t or choose to ignore.

    Another important difference between Hispanics and Blacks is that Democrats can’t and shouldn’t count on churches as places of political socialization. While Blacks churches will train and deliver the Black Democratic vote at 90% level, Hispanics churches may actually both train and deliver the Republican segments of the Hispanic electorate. This is true of both Puerto Ricans and Hispanics in general, specially when it comes to evangelicals.

    The impact of religion in Latin America has been in support of the right both domestically and in terms of who immigrants vote for when they move to the US, unless they move to deep Blue states where the Democratic party has a monopoly and/or is able to exert fundamental peer pressure due to major debates over immigration (like the ones had in California).

    Domestic Latin American political cultures (due to somewhat complex reasons, including US intervention and influence) have a deep degree of animosity towards communism and tolerance for right wing authoritarianism. Instead of a liberal left what is most often present is a populist center. These political values need to be overriden by Democrats when they socialize Hispanics.

    Puerto Rico is no different. The biggest party in Puerto Rico is right wing. The second party is clearly in the center. All efforts to create left wing parties on the island fizzle. The island has a long history of political authoritarianism and populism and rather little experience with liberalism.

    Puerto Rican political culture is conservative. But not in the US sense of conservatism. Puerto Ricans won’t be swayed by right wing talk of low taxes and deregulation. It is not conservative in the moral sense either. Puerto Ricans won’t obsess over guns, abortion and gays. Yet it is still conservative in the sense of not being swayed by liberalism over the left wing position on these issues either.

    Like most Hispanics (and sharing this trait with most Black voters), Puerto Ricans politically care about bread and butter issues, even if they are not particularly informed about how these issues play out in the policy arena. They know they can’t trust Republicans with healthcare or education, but may be ambivalent (like too many Democrats are) about how Republicans handle the economy.

    On foreign policy too one will find this Hispanic ambivalence, being skeptical of Republican military adventurism and imperialism, while finding Democrats’ ambiguous stance on Latin American left wing authoritarianism misinformed, simplistic, moralistic and potentially dangerous to their former home countries.

    The danger for Democrats in dealing with Puerto Ricans therefore lies in focusing on immigration, failing to develop a discourse that addresses both left wing and right wing authoritarianism at home and abroad with sufficient nuance and clarity, not addressing the Republican advantage over the economy and talking too much about Puerto Rico’s political status. In other words, Puerto Ricans have in many ways a lot more in common with the white working class vote than they have with other Democratic constituencies.

    Democrats should address Puerto Ricans in the context of the particular problems of the cities and states they live in. There is not a single message that can be targeted at Puerto Ricans nationally in very effective way, at least not effective enough to get them to both register and turn out.

    In places like New York and the rest of the north you have to address the welfare traps, in work poverty, social mobility, discrimination in housing, in education and in work opportunities, how to make it easier to commute to jobs.

    In places like Florida (specially Central Florida) you have to talk about the very low minimum wage (even by huge employers like Disney), how to maintain unemployment low while raising wages and benefits, how to expand Medicaid but keep taxes low.

    Puerto Ricans work in completely different economic sectors in the north and the south. In the north you will find concentration in healthcare and the public sector. In the south you will find more concentration in the private sector like hospitality. The wage structure, work experience, relationship to taxes and welfare will be completely different for someone who works as a teacher in NYC from someone who works for Disney in Orlando.

    If Democrats want to address the particularity of Puerto Ricans at the national level they should focus on a single issue: how to make it possible for Puerto Ricans to stay on the island. Forget about status. The average Puerto Rican both obsesses and couldn’t care less about the island’s political status. Talk about the role of the welfare state in Puerto Rico, how to develop jobs (with realistic promises -and not more tax incentives- instead of platitudes), address how the Fiscal Control Board has failed in developing strategies to lessen corruption or fix infrastructure.


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