Trump supporters gathered at Versailles late Tuesday afternoon to get a glimpse of the former president as he pulled up to the famed Cuban restaurant and bakery, walked in and immediately cried out: “Are you ready? Food for everyone!”
Trump, traveling in a motorcade from the Miami federal courthouse, made a strategic detour on his way back to New Jersey to court his ardent supporters at the Little Havana bakery that adjoins the restaurant, a GOP stronghold for Hispanic voters. They returned the love by taking photos, blowing kisses and singing “Happy Birthday,” a day before Trump’s 77th birthday Wednesday.
They were thrilled Trump stopped in their neighborhood spot following his arraignment in Miami federal court. Prior to Versailles, Trump pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the 37-count federal indictment accusing him of deliberating keeping hundreds of classified government documents at his Palm Beach estate after he left the White House in January 2021.
Ambar Sanchez, 24, of Miami happened to be in the bakery eating lunch when Trump entered. She said he came in, thanked everybody for coming and paused with some pastors and a rabbi.
“They stood over him and prayed together. It was really beautiful. He seemed relaxed and very happy to be with the people, as always,’’ she said.
Trump also commented on his legal troubles, saying, “I think it’s going great ... we have a rigged country,” before departing from the restaurant at Southwest Eighth Street and 35th Avenue, giving a thumbs-up through the closed window of his car.
The Versailles crowd agreed with his assessment of the legal system. “In this country exists a system of justice that is not justice. If you have the last name Clinton or Biden, you have a system of justice. If you have the last name Trump, it’s another system of justice,” said Enrique Canton in Spanish, who has stood in front of Versailles many times to make his pro-Trump voice heard.
Before Trump’s arrival, a sizable crowd rallied around the restaurant’s doors chanting “USA” and “Trump.” They waved American flags, Trump for 2024 banners and one spoke through a megaphone.
Alex Otaola, a candidate for Miami-Dade County mayor and ardent Trump supporter, was expected to interview Trump at the restaurant for his online show “Hola Ota-Ola!” But that interview did not take place.
“What’s happening here is a political prosecution of this candidate for presidency next year,” Otaola said in Spanish during his Monday broadcast. He said the Democrats are trying to invalidate Trump’s candidacy for president in 2024 because of his “impeccable” four years in office.
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Trump’s Versailles visit came a day after he spoke about his charges — and took jabs at President Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — during an interview with Miami-based Americano Media’s studios and Radio Libre 790 AM, a Spanish-language conservative radio station. The Versailles crowd also denounced Biden, some in expletive-laced language.
Hispanic voters are vital in Florida elections. And Trump knows it.
Otaola, the ostentatious social media influencer, has thousands of fans devoted to his spectacle of a show in which he often mocks not only the Cuban regime but Democrats, liberals, Black Lives Matter, trans people and Hispanic celebrities.
He has been credited with driving young Cuban voters to the right.
In 2020, Trump lost his reelection, but he led a political shift in Miami-Dade County that was largely driven by gains in majority Hispanic districts. He went from losing the county to Democrat Hillary Clinton by a staggering 29 percentage points in 2016 to losing it by seven percentage points to President Joe Biden in 2020.
Miami-Dade’s political shift to the right
Trump’s swing was buoyed by Miami-Dade’s large population of Cuban Americans, who make up a third of the electorate.
The political dynamics in the county, which has long been considered a lock for Democrats, has continued to shift rightward.
In 2022, DeSantis won the majority-Hispanic county by 11 points. It marked the first time in two decades that a Republican governor had captured the county. In total, DeSantis won in 280 of the 283 precincts where the share of registered Hispanic voters was greater than 70%, according to a Herald analysis of the 2022 election results.
And Versailles is where Miami’s Cuban population gathers to have their voice heard whenever they are pleased, or angered, by decisions made by U.S. political leaders. People gather here to clang their pots and pans, wave flags, honk and shout in support of the people of Cuba. Or celebrate the long-awaited death of Fidel Castro.
For Republican and Democrat politicians, it is often a pit stop during their Miami visits, a place to drink a cafecito at the ventanita, grab a photo op and rally support from Hispanic voters. In 2021, Florida Republicans flocked to the restaurant for a GOP town hall hosted by FOX News’ Sean Hannity.