TAMPA — The message came as a warning during the first stop on Donald Trump Jr.'s “Fighters Against Socialism” tour.
Delivered by opponents of socialist leaders in Cuba and Venezuela, as well as by Trump, it went like this: Electing Joe Biden president will cause the U.S. to descend quickly into a socialist, communist or Marxist dictatorship.
“How close we are, right at the edge of a cliff,” said Norma Camero-Reno, a Venezuelan who heads the group Casa Venezuela Tampa Bay. “If we don’t elect President Trump, we are going to lose this country.”
“The Cuban people did not think it could happen to them,” added Patsy Sanchez, a University of South Florida administrator whose family escaped Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift after her father was imprisoned 17 years for political dissent.
The star of the show, Trump, put it this way: “Your freedoms are at stake here. … This time it’s real because you have socialism and Marxism on the ballot.”
Trump said Biden is no more than a frontman for the far left wing of the Democratic Party, including U.S. Rep. Alex Ocasio-Cortez of New York. “He’s the camouflage to get Kamala Harris in," Trump said. “He’s the camouflage to get Bernie Sanders in … AOC.”
To punch the point home, mixed martial arts fighter Jorge Masvidal of Miami closed his brief remarks with, "God bless America. … God bless the greatest country in the f--king world.”
President Trump himself used the expletive last week in a warning to Iran during an interview with radio host Rush Limbaugh.
The crowd size of a few hundred Sunday disappointed Deborah Tamargo, former Hillsborough County Republican Party chair, who had lined up Reno and Sanchez as speakers.
“I watched that happen in Venezuela in a very short period of time,” Tamargo said. “One day, people woke up, they were now starving, their property was taken away.”
The Tampa event was the first of four stops for the bus tour Sunday, to be followed by Orlando, Coconut Creek and Miami. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was to join the rally in Miami.
Originally scheduled to start last weekend, the event was delayed by the outbreak of coronavirus in the White House.
It’s the latest in the Trump campaign’s intense courtship of Florida.
Sunday was Donald Trump Jr.'s second appearance in Tampa and his fifth in Florida since Thursday. It followed stops by Vice President Mike Pence in Orlando and The Villages on Saturday and preceded an appearance planned by President at a rally in Sanford on Monday.
There’s a reason Florida is getting all this attention: Most experts say it will be difficult or impossible for Trump to win re-election without winning Florida, although the campaign says such a path exists.
As of Sunday, the RealClear Politics polling average showed Biden up 3.7 points in Florida. But a more recent robopoll — by a Fox News station and Insider Advantages and with a margin of error of 4.9 points — showed Trump up by 3 points.
Trump Jr., famous for trolling liberals, lived up to his reputation for outrageousness. He used much of his speech to complain about the persecution of conservatives by liberals, the press, the FBI and others.
“It’s not easy to be a Trump supporter,” he said. “I understand that I’m the son of a successful guy. … I’m not allowed to have an opinion. If I do have an opinion, I am canceled.”
He sneered at Biden, calling him senile and saying he’d think he was in Alaska if he appeared in Tampa.
He said Democrats are involved in violence in the wake of police killings of Black people, calling demonstrations "a planned and coordinated deal” complete with “U-Haul vans of bricks and two by fours” which “magically show up at locations for antifa.”
In response, Biden’s Florida campaign hosted a call with local Hispanic figures to condemn Trump’s “scare tactics." Those taking part included Tampa City Council member Luis Viera, a Democrat, and former state Rep. J.C. Planas of Miami, a Republican.
“I’m a son of Cuban exiles who fled communism, so I take such issues very seriously,” Viera said. "Any sort of accusation that a Biden-Harris ticket would lead to a Cuban- or Venezuelan-style dictatorship is utter nonsense and ugly demagoguery.
“Under this president," he said, "we’ve seen a 90 percent reduction in the number refugees” from authoritarian countries.
Tampa Bay Times elections coverage
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