As his would-be rivals squabbled in Miami on Wednesday night over who is best positioned to challenge him for the nomination, former President Donald Trump was a 20 minute drive away from the debate stage in Hialeah, Florida, acting as if he had the nomination locked up and laying out his agenda for his next term.
The 2024 GOP frontrunner gave a speech to thousands of supporters that deviated little from his typical rally fare and his frequent depiction of the U.S. as a “failing nation.” Warning of terrorism and “packs of sadistic criminals” victimizing innocent Americans, Trump promised the largest deportation effort in U.S. history, pledged to remove pro-Palestinian foreign nationals from the country, declared he is the only man who can stop World War III and repeated his false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election while predicting without evidence that Democrats will rig the 2024 election.
There was no new policy announcement or revelation or legally questionable attack on the judges presiding over his criminal and civil cases in New York, Florida, Georgia and Washington. The big news of the day was Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his former White House press secretary, endorsing the former president.
But it didn’t matter that he was playing the hits; the crowd adored him, chanting “we want Trump” throughout the night, forcing Huckabee Sanders to stop her remarks for a full minute at one point. And the polling — Trump has leads of 30 to 40 percentage points in most national and early state polls — suggests the Republican electorate is still his to lose with only weeks until the Iowa caucuses open the primary cycle.
“You have about what? Seven or eight candidates left? I think they're at a debate tonight. Nobody's talking about it,” Trump said, mocking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley for running against him. Those two, the closest to him in the polls, were participating in the Republican National Committee’s third debate on Wednesday night alongside South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and pharmaceutical entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Trump has not participated in any debate and has said he sees no point in lowering himself to his challengers’ level.
“Our nation is in very serious trouble and it's time for the Republican establishment to stop wasting time and resources trying to push weak and ineffective RINOs and Never Trumpers that nobody wants and no one is going to vote for,” Trump continued, using the disparaging conservative term for “Republicans in name only” to describe his rivals.
Trump was in Hialeah in a bid to appeal to Hispanic Floridians, particularly Cubans, as he seeks to expand his 40 percentage point lead over DeSantis in the state. More than 95% of Hialeah’s 220,000 residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the most recent census numbers. Most are Cuban or Cuban American and speak Spanish at home.
“Crooked Joe Biden and the radical left Democrats are turning the United States into communist Cuba and you know because we have a lot of great Cubans here. We have some great Cubans here,” Trump told the crowd, comparing his four criminal prosecutions to Cuba’s repression of political opponents. “Nobody ever did more for Americans who love Cuba than a gentleman named Donald J. Trump when he was president.”
Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo, the son of a Bay of Pigs participant, was briefly invited on stage by Trump to reveal he planned to rename a street in the city to “President Donald J. Trump Avenue.”
Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager, held a news conference Tuesday in downtown Miami to promote the reelection effort’s work with Latinos. The Biden campaign has run ads in English, Spanish and Spanglish, combining words of both languages the way many Hispanics do in the United States.
“Latinos continue to support Democrats overwhelmingly,” Chavez Rodriguez said. “That being said, we are not taking any of this for granted.”
Trump also warned Hispanics, who are predominantly Catholic, that President Joe Biden is “after” Catholics. Biden is the second Catholic president in U.S. history and attends Sunday mass virtually every week.
“Any Catholic or Christian that votes for a Democrat, I have to say, you're fools if you do that. You're a fool,” Trump said, echoing sentiments he has previously expressed about Jews and his dissatisfaction with their loyalty.
Trump has long courted the Cuban community, which skews more Republican than other Hispanics. According to Pew, a majority of Cuban American voters, 58%, identified as Republican or Republican-leaning before the 2020 election.
In the White House, Trump worked to undo President Barack Obama’s Cuba engagement policy and he sanctioned socialist governments in Latin America. As he runs once more, Trump has ramped up his efforts to cast Democrats as Marxists, socialists and communists — language that may resonate with Cuban and Venezuelan exiles who fled poverty and political persecution.
After Trump appeared at a federal courthouse in Miami in June to plead not guilty to dozens of felony counts accusing him of hoarding classified documents and refusing government demands to give them back, he headed to Versailles, an iconic Cuban restaurant, coffee shop and bakery in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood that is a popular stop for politicians visiting Miami.
Back in his adopted home state, Trump’s rally took on a concert-like atmosphere despite his dark and occasionally angry portrait of the state of the U.S. in 2023. He was joined by scores of local officials, his son and frequent surrogate Donald Trump Jr. and a small collection of celebrities: comedian and conspiracy theorist Roseanne Barr and UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal both gave speeches before Trump took the stage. Rapper Lil Pump and New York Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes received shout outs from the former president.
At one point, the Trump campaign played an Elvis music video in between speeches.
While his opponents were bickering and insulting one another on NBC News, Trump was celebrating and had his eyes on the general election. Not a vote has been cast in the primary yet, but he shows no sign of relinquishing his hold on the Republican Party any time soon.
“Unless you’re a fan of cheap knockoffs or out-of-tune tribute bands, tonight’s GOP debate was a complete waste of time and money,” Trump senior advisor Chris LaCivita said in a statement after the debate, adding that DeSantis and Haley “are going nowhere, and at this point every dollar sent to their campaigns or their SuperPACs may as well be going directly to Joe Biden. Donald J. Trump is going to be the next President of the United States. It’s up to DeSantis and Haley to determine if they want a political future…or not.”