Barring a late entry by a third-party candidate-dissenter, voters in the U.S. presidential election this fall will choose between Republican and Democratic Party nominees who agree on at least one issue: Both will favor ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba unconditionally.
As the Voice of America reported (along with several other news agencies), Mr. Donald J. Trump is now running unopposed as the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president. If you visit the Council on Foreign Relations’ Campaign 2016 website, you will see that he endorsed President Obama’s opening to Cuba last September, adding (of course), “we should have made a better deal.”
Both Democrats running for president, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, also support repeal of the embargo. Whatever else the two major party candidates bicker about this fall, they won’t be arguing over Cuba.
We’ve not had a presidential election like this since the Cuban revolution. But, this development is not just historic; it augurs well for the ability of the next president to untie the knots that have bound the embargo to U.S. foreign policy far too long.
The most recent polling data out of Florida – conducted in April by Dario Moreno, associate professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University – offers powerful evidence of how much public opinion in South Florida’s Cuban American community has shifted.
It may also explain why Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the most senior representative in Florida’s Congressional delegation, and a leading hardline supporter of tough sanctions on Cuba, announced today that she won’t be voting for either party’s nominee.
Here’s a summary of what Dr. Moreno found:
Cuban Americans are in the process of a secular realignment, moving away from the GOP and towards the Democrats.
This realignment will likely be accelerated by the nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for president.Among the Cuban American base, Trump has only 37%, and “this is the lowest in history that any potential Republican candidate has polled in this traditionally loyal demographic.”
By comparison, Hillary Clinton is within striking range at 31%
Support for the hardline policy toward Cuba no longer unifies the community as it did for a generation (1980-2008), and adds “The hardline Cuban consensus is beginning to break down.”
Obviously, this is a sharp and significant departure from what came before. The hardliners in the South Florida electorate exerted a grip on the policymaking process that derived from their influence first on presidential elections – and the Electoral College significance of Florida – which they then leveraged over Members of Congress in the 49 other states.
Dr. Moreno’s data – very much in line with what we have read and reported on previously – shows fundamentally they have lost control over the voting preferences of “Young Cubans and those who arrived in the United States recently (after 1992),” who are likely to abandon the GOP in even greater numbers with the nomination of Mr. Trump.
We report on this disorder not for partisan reasons, but because of what it means for the prospects of legislation to end the embargo completely when the new Congress convenes in 2017.
It must have been a stunning week for Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. She tweeted all week about the Kardashians’ visit to Cuba (to be honest, we were sympathetic to her comment, “haven’t the #Cuban ppl suffered enough?”) but went radio silent when several news agencies reported that a four-member security delegation from Cuba’s government had been led on a “familiarization tour” of Joint Interagency Task Force South, a facility playing a key role against narco-trafficking. Not a tweet or a peep about the visitors posing a security risk.
There is, in fact, very little she can say, when 94,000 Americans, as well as 115,000 Cuban Americans, broke records by visiting Cuba in the first quarter of 2016 at the highest levels ever recorded, so much so that Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal tweeted about it. Or when the Chief Economist of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, “no fan of Cuban human rights violations, limited freedoms and other flaws,” publishes an op-ed in the Deseret News, Utah’s major daily newspaper, saying that the future of U.S. Cuba relations “will spring from engagement, not separation.”
The country has changed, just like South Florida has changed, and these shifts can only reinforce each other going forward.
With Rep. Ros-Lehtinen neutral in the November election, it becomes pretty difficult for her and other supporters of the embargo in both political parties to make an effective stand against lifting it, especially if that’s what the next president makes a priority of his or her administration.
Let other Members of Congress take note. No excuses.