Trump paints himself as a victim in pitch to Florida Hispanics wary of political persecution

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(MIAMI) — As Donald Trump continues to campaign off of his four unprecedented indictments, denying wrongdoing in each of them, he’s taken his message directly to a community that he believes can relate.

On Wednesday night, rather than attend the third 2024 GOP debate in Miami, the former president held a rally for supporters in nearby Hialeah, Florida, a heavily-Hispanic city which has trended increasingly conservative in recent years.

As part of the state’s largest county, the area could be key to Trump continuing to win in Florida after he beat Hillary Clinton there in 2016 by 2.2% and then beat now-President Joe Biden by about 3.3% in 2020.

Now, as Trump mounts his third presidential bid and as Florida Republicans have worked to turn the state solidly red, he is looking toward Hialeah to expand his support in Miami-Dade County, which he almost flipped three years ago.

On Wednesday night, Trump sharpened his rhetoric of alleged “persecution” and resistance to communism — invoking the experiences of attendees and their families, particularly Cuban Americans who remember the communist rule of the late dictator Fidel Castro.

“Just like the Cuban regime, the Biden regime is trying to put their political opponents in jail, shutting down free speech, taking bribes and kickbacks to enrich themselves,” Trump claimed without evidence, drawing cheers from his supporters.

Then, Trump told the crowd that electing him over Biden would be the only way to save the country from being run like those many in the crowd had escaped from.

“If you don’t want to let the communists destroy America like they destroyed Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and so many other countries, you need to send a message by voting crooked Joe Biden and all of his friends, the people that are actually really running our country, and every last Democrat, get them the hell out of office,” Trump said.

The Biden campaign was swift in slamming Trump’s comments, arguing he was “no real ally of Cuban Americans” and highlighting his past praise of authoritarian leaders and his attempts to undo Obama-era health care legislation.

“His presidency saw consistent efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, even though Cuban-heavy Hialeah has the second-highest enrollment in the country,” Maca Casado, a spokesperson for Biden’s reelection campaign, said. “And his calls for economic opportunity were only realized by President Biden’s historic investments in Hispanic small businesses.”

But some rally attendees told ABC News that Trump’s messaging resonated with and persuaded them.

Al Lopez, an immigrant from Cuba, said, “I saw what happened firsthand to members of my family, friends in Cuba when Castro took over. A lot of people felt that he was the answer, but he wasn’t — so he betrayed us just like Biden is betraying us. The whole Democratic Party is betraying us.”

Through tears, a woman named Aiantxa, who was born in Cuba and immigrated to the U.S. 15 years ago, said she believed Trump’s criminal charges were brought for political reasons.

Prosecutors who brought the four criminal cases against Trump have all defended the accusations, laying out extensive evidence and other detail, in court filings, about the nature of the charges against him.

He collectively faces 91 charges across four cases: two state-level prosecutions, in New York City and Fulton County, Georgia; and two federal prosecutions, in Florida and Washington, D.C.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and said he did nothing wrong.

Special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the Department of Justice’s investigation of Trump, has defended his work, which included charging Trump in an election subversion case related to Jan. 6 and the push to overturn the 2020 presidential results.

“The attack on our nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. As described in the indictment [against Trump], it was fueled by lies,” Smith said in August. “Lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.”

Nonetheless, Esther Hernandez, an attendee at Wednesday’s rally from Cuba, said Trump’s claims of persecution aligned with her personal experiences. “No freedom, political prosecution — the same thing that’s happening here,” she said. ‘It started like that, little by little, until your rights were not anymore.”

Speakers at the rally before Trump cast his platform in the political terms of other countries.

“Many of us left Cuba, Venezuela for freedom,” said Pastor Mario Bramnick, president of the Latino Coalition for Israel, who set the tone of the night. “We never thought that communism would come to our shores. We need President Trump so that communism will never come to the United States of America.”

“He understands us,” Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo said of Trump. “He made a commitment to this community that he was going to reverse the treacherous policies of Obama with Cuba, and he did it.”

But Casado, the Biden campaign spokesperson, said Trump was being dishonest — illustrating the dueling pitches Hispanic voters in Florida will likely face in the 2024 race.

“Trump can shout ‘socialism’ all he wants,” Casado said, “but he’s the only candidate in this race that has praised Putin, called Kim Jong Un ‘brilliant,’ and legitimized Latin American dictators.”

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