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Supporters of President Donald Trump wait for him to speak at a campaign rally.
The Trump campaign launched a new Latinos for Trump push on Sunday. Alex Brandon/AP

‘They’ve Lived This’: After Trump’s Conviction, Republicans Hope Latinos See Biden as Hugo Chávez

“That’s the most racist shit I’ve ever heard,” Democratic Rep. Maxwell Frost said of Republicans who think the Trump verdict will help him with Latino voters.

Many Latinos in the U.S. are all too familiar with corrupt and criminal leaders. Some families fled their native countries because of them. But now that Donald Trump has been convicted of felonies, Republicans claim it could boost his support with Latino voters.

Much like Trump and his allies have claimed his criminal trials will help him with Black voters, Republican lawmakers and strategists told NOTUS that the verdict could make Latinos more sympathetic to the former president. Their hope is to convince these voters that Trump is being unfairly targeted by President Joe Biden, tying the charges to how regimes in Latin America have oppressed their opponents.

“[Latinos] can identify with this, they’ve lived this, they’ve seen this movie before, and they don’t want to repeat it,” said Jaime Florez, Hispanic communications director for the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign, in an interview conducted in Spanish. “Now, well, they stand in solidarity with a president that they realize is being improperly and illegally attacked by judicial bodies that are simply working for the Biden campaign.”

Both parties are eager to find solid messaging to win Latino voters. And the Trump verdict seems like fertile ground given how many people with Latino American roots — Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans in particular — feel about those nations’ leadership. But will these voters agree with Biden that Trump is a corrupt leader along the lines of Hugo Chávez or Fidel Castro? Will they buy Trump allies’ argument that Biden is the dictator-like one? Or will these arguments fall flat?

A Fox News poll of voters in Florida — a state that has seen growing Latino support for Republicans — conducted after the conviction found that 50% of Hispanic voters say they would support Biden and 48% say they would vote for Trump (2% said they didn’t know who they’d support). Most of the voters polled — 58% — said the verdict did not matter to them as they decide which candidate they will support in November.

Research shows that Latinos “generally trust government and civic institutions,” so Democrats say Republicans are going too far by trying to appeal to Latinos that way.

“Trying to draw a comparison will fall on deaf ears because every Latino immigrant who has come from a country in Latin America that did not have an independent judiciary recognizes that here in the United States, we do,” said Matt Barreto, the former lead Latino pollster for the 2020 Biden campaign. “I don’t see that argument going anywhere. I believe that some of his campaign hacks probably sat around the room and thought this up, but the average Latino voter will not see him as being prosecuted at all.”

Trump allies still plan to make the connection. The former president launched a new Hispanic outreach effort, “Latino Americans for Trump,” at a rally in Las Vegas on Sunday. Florez said that the launch was “very important” for the campaign because “it recognizes how important the Latino vote will be in the November election.”

“The Republican Party is committed to forging longstanding relationships with the Latino American community — and the launch of ‘Latino Americans for Trump’ is just the beginning,” Republican National Committee Chair Michael Whatley and co-Chair Lara Trump said in a statement Sunday.

Trump didn’t bring up the outreach program or make any specific mention of Latino voters during his rally on Sunday.

The former president’s effort to attract Latinos comes late in the campaign — five months before the election and three months after the Biden campaign launched its own program to reach Latino voters. The Republican National Committee has also closed several Hispanic outreach centers. (Florez told NOTUS in March that they’d reopen them “soon,” but it hasn’t happened yet.)

Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, a Cuban American Republican from Florida, said he thinks many Latinos would be receptive to the message that Trump getting convicted shows Biden is corrupt.

“What I see is that, in the district I represent, which has a very diverse Latino community, see, Cubans got there because of [Fidel] Castro, Nicaraguans because of [Daniel] Ortega, Venezuelans because of [Hugo] Chávez and [Nicolás] Maduro,” Díaz-Balart told NOTUS in Spanish.

“[Trump’s conviction] is something totally unfair, unjustifiable, a violation to the rule of law and something that we’ve seen in dictatorships, but never in the United States,” he continued.“I think this should scare anyone that loves liberty and democracy, and particularly those that come from countries where we’ve seen this before.”

Rep. Carlos Gimenez, another Cuban American representative in Florida, agreed.

“It looks very much like what they’re doing in third-world countries,” he told NOTUS. “In Nicaragua, Ortega jailed his seven presidential opponents, and Maduro [in Venezuela], right after we lifted some sanctions against him, he went ahead and invalidated his major opponent, making her ineligible and using the system to effectuate that. So, yeah, there’s a lot of similarities.”

(The Organization of American States has called on Ortega to release all political prisoners and recognized “deteriorating” human rights conditions in Nicaragua and also denounced Maduro’s decision to disqualify María Corina Machado, a Venezuelan opposition leader, from the 2024 presidential elections.)

Democrats have similarly tried to tie the situation to Latin American dictators. Last December, the Biden campaign launched ads targeting Latinos using Trump’s comments that he’d be a “dictator” if reelected while flashing pictures of Venezuela’s Chávez and Maduro.

The Biden campaign said it was “racist and an insult to the intellect and dignity of every Latino voter to assume that they will have an ounce of sympathy for a wannabe dictator, white-collar convicted felon like Donald Trump.”

“The horrifying truth of this election is that the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, is inspired by dictators like Hugo Chavez and his buddy Vladamir Putin,” Maca Casado, the Biden campaign’s Hispanic media director, told NOTUS in a statement.

Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, a national co-chair on Biden’s reelection committee, said that “the Latinos that I’ve spoken to, and I’ve been traveling to Arizona, to Pennsylvania, some important swing states, they actually see the threat in authoritarianism that they or their family members fled and they see Trump as an authoritarian.”

Some Democrats said they don’t expect Trump to win over any new Latino supporters, but it’s unlikely that the ones he already has will abandon him.

“I think it’s baked in. I think it’s ideological,” said former Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who has focused on mobilizing Latino voters since he left Congress in 2018 and is campaigning for Biden. “Do I think Nicaraguans, Cubans and Venezuelans are going to change their minds because of the verdict? Absolutely not. By the same token, I don’t think the Puerto Ricans that are going to vote for Trump are going to change their mind.”

Giancarlo Sopo, who was one of Trump’s 2020 campaign Hispanic media strategists, told NOTUS that he doesn’t think the conviction will “[hurt] President Trump with Hispanics at all.”

“On the contrary, the alleged fling probably makes him more relatable to guys who find such escapades cool. Is that politically incorrect to say? Maybe, but it’s true,” Sopo added. “The same people who have spent decades tuning in to watch Raúl De Molina jump into hot tubs with women in [thongs] aren’t suddenly going to be offended by this. Anyone who thinks otherwise just doesn’t understand Hispanic culture.” (De Molina is the host of “El Gordo y la Flaca,” a popular show in Latin America that has been criticized for its depictions of women.)

While Democrats have acknowledged that their own parties could do better to attract Latino voters, they believe that Republicans’ new messaging strategy is straight-up offensive.

“That’s the most racist shit I’ve ever heard,” said Rep. Maxwell Frost, who is part of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board.

He predicted many Latino voters, particularly those who are working class, would be particularly put off by Trump getting a light sentence — something he suspects is likely due to the former president’s wealth, power and race.

“I think whether or not you use their racist logic … I don’t think it helps Trump overall,” he said.

Oriana González is a reporter at NOTUS.