How a Surprising Twist in the Latino Vote Gave Florida to Trump

How a Surprising Twist in the Latino Vote Gave Florida to Trump

© Scott Audette / Reuters

Disaffected white men living on the back roads of the Rust Belt are getting a lot of credit for propelling Donald Trump to the White House.

Hillary Clinton is laying some of the blame for her loss on FBI Director James Comey and his controversial decision to send a cyptic letter to Congress 11 days before the election disclosing possible new developments in the investigation of her use of private email as Secretary of State.

And whining protesters – no doubt including some who decried Trump’s refusal to say he would accept the results of the election -- are continuing their demonstrations against his head-snapping victory.

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But the truth of the election is a lot more complicated than often-unpredictable white voters suddenly emerging in the heartland to back a candidate who for all his flaws they see as an agent of economic change. It also is a lot more complicated than Comey’s red alert, later downgraded to a “never mind” on November 6.

Yes, Trump’s win is about white voters upset about being left behind.

Still, you can make the case – especially given the popular vote, which has Clinton ahead by almost 640,000 votes – that Trump didn’t win. It was Clinton who lost. And she lost because of a stew of reasons, including turnout, Obama’s normalizing of relations with Cuba and maybe even the third-party candidacy of Jill Stein.

Democrats have themselves to blame for not showing up to vote for Clinton, especially in places that turned out to be crucial – like Cleveland and Detroit.

If Trump had not won Florida and doesn’t win Michigan, which still has not been officially called, he would not be president-elect.

In Michigan, with 16 Electoral College votes, Trump is ahead by 0.3 percent or fewer than 12,000 votes.

Related: Trump Awakens a Sleeping Giant: Record Turnout for Latino Voters

In 2012, Barack Obama won Wayne County, which includes Detroit, with 595,253 votes. Clinton won Wayne County with 517.022 – 78,231 fewer than Obama. Those numbers reflect a weak turnout, especially by African Americans, despite the millions and millions spent by Democrats to mobilize voters.

Had blacks turned out, Clinton would have won Michigan. Had even a fraction of the more than 50,000 votes for Green Party candidate Stein gone to Clinton, she would have won the state.

In Florida, Clinton lost by 114,455 despite the fact that she won 278,000 more votes than Obama in 2012, according to Meet the Press. That reflects a surge in the Hispanic vote driven in part by an influx of Puerto Ricans who have moved to Florida in search of jobs because of the economic crisis at home.

But the majority of Cuban-Americans, especially in the Miami area, are thought to have voted for Trump. In 2012, the majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, usually reliably Republican, voted for Obama over Mitt Romney 49-47 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Related: Why Puerto Ricans in Florida Could Decide the Election

In Miami-Dade, which includes Miami, there are about 260,000 Cuban-Americans registered as Republicans. And turnout among them is as high as 80 to 90 percent. If 80 percent turned out and 49 percent voted for Clinton as they did for Obama in 2012, that’s about 102,000 votes, putting her loss at fewer than 12,500, which under Florida law would probably have triggered a recount.

What happened in between 2012 and 2016?

Certainly part of the reason is Obama’s détente with Castro’s Cuba, which didn’t sit well with older Cuban-Americans.

Mariano Martinez is a 70-year-old Realtor in Miami with deep ties to the Cuban-American community. Martinez, whose father was a successful businessman forced to leave Cuba and start over after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, said events like that “remain with you and affect your political views.”

But it was more than his disgust with Obama’s overtures to Cuba that drove Martinez, whom I have known for decades and who was friends with Bill Clinton when they were undergraduate classmates at Georgetown, to vote for Trump. He felt that Obamacare was a disaster, and he feared that Hillary Clinton would not boost the economy, would drive up the national debt and would take the country further left.

Related: Trump Would Undo Obama's Cuba Moves Unless Religious Freedom Allowed

“Nothing is being done to fix the underlying economy,” he said. “To me, the economy was the centerpiece.”

Cuban-Americans in South Florida are divided in their loyalties, Martinez said, with older immigrants more likely to be Republican and newer arrivals more disposed toward Democrats. But while they are highly engaged, this year he said he saw a reluctance to display preferences, with few lawn signs and bumper stickers.

Martinez watched the election closely: Over the course of the primaries and general election campaign, he and his wife would get together with five other couples to watch the debates over drinks and dinner.

“Trump has his issues,” Martinez said.

On Election Day, though, Martinez – not a hugely religious person -- was so fearful of a Clinton victory and how it would affect his three children and six grandchildren that he went to church and knelt for an hour praying that Trump would win.