President Trump’s comments about “shithole countries” like Haiti could hurt him most severely in his winter home of Florida, a state that’s also home to a large Haitian community. And it’s just the latest time he’s singled out a key voting bloc to antagonize in the state.
His racially charged comments add insult to injury to the community, just weeks after his administration ended temporary status protection for 60,000 Haitian refugees living in the U.S.
And that’s nothing compared to how much he’s infuriated the state’s fast-growing Puerto Rican community with his administration’s shoddy response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island.
“It’s certainly making it tougher to be a Republican in Florida,” Alex Conant, a former senior strategist for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), told TPM. “The extent that he’s pissing off Haitians and Puerto Ricans is a part of his larger problem of poking the opposition which does nothing but guarantee extraordinary Democratic turnout.”
There are more than 300,000 Haitian-born people living in Florida, including roughly 100,000 American citizens who are registered voters. Trump actively courted Haitian voters in 2016, even promising to be their “champion” while campaigning in Miami’s Little Haiti that September.
That’s a big voting bloc — as many people as Trump’s margin of victory in the state in 2016. But it’s nothing compared to the more than 1 million Puerto Ricans living in the state, a population that has more than doubled since 2000. Trump’s handling of the hurricane that devastated (and continues to devastate) the island territory has caused a major uptick in the Puerto Rican exodus. As of November, a whopping 200,000 Puerto Ricans had moved to the state since the hurricane — a number that’s undoubtedly increased since then. All Democrats need to do is register those American citizens to further hurt Republicans’ chances in the state.
Florida Republicans were quick to note how problematic Trump’s latest comments were — including top state GOP strategist (and frequent Trump critic) Rick Wilson:
Don't worry. It's not like there about 300,000 Haitians in Florida now or that they represent a fast-growing group of registered voters. #maga
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) January 11, 2018
It was telling that one of the few Republicans who came out firing immediately against the comment was Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), a potential Senate candidate.
“If this report is true, it is absolutely wrong to say or think this,” Scott said in a written statement. “I do not think this way, nor do I agree with this kind of sentiment. I represent Florida, and we are an amazing melting pot where over 250 languages are spoken.”
That’s the second time in as many weeks that Scott has split with his close ally — he also called out the Trump administration for threatening to open up drilling off Florida’s coast, another deeply unpopular move in the state (they’ve since backed off, exempting Florida while not giving other states the same courtesy as of yet).
It’s unlikely that Trump’s latest incendiary comments will be top-of-mind for voters in 2020, or even 2018. But if Trump wants to carry the state where he winters, he has a funny way of going about it.