At its narrowest point, the Florida Straits is only 93 miles wide. You could swim it, if you were exceptionally motivated and athletic. I remember the first time I landed at Miami airport. I was struck by the amount of Spanish being spoken, and the signs advertising Cuban coffee. I immediately understood the dynamic that led to southern Florida jokingly being dubbed ‘Northern Cuba’.As one of the earliest states to announce its results, Florida crushed Biden supporters’ hopes for a landslide early in the night. Trump’s victory has been attributed to the Cuban vote. Comedian Jaboukie Young-White tweeted ‘the kkkubans came out in full force’ after Trump’s victory in Florida was announced. The majority of the replies were full of loathing for Cuban-Americans. They were called ‘Tio Toms’ (a play on ‘Uncle Tom’), and ‘the weakest links in the Latino community’.But do Cuban-Americans really love Trump? Or are they merely responding to Joe Biden’s overall failure to entice Latino voters in general? It is clear that Biden failed to win over enough Latinos in Florida — Clinton won Miami-Dade county by 30 percentage points, Biden by just 7. This doomed him to defeat in Florida. While he did campaign in earnest with Latinos in Florida in the last seven weeks before the election, it was clearly too little too late. 

That Biden would fall short with Latino voters in Florida should have been apparent months ago. His complacency towards Latino voters really came home when the Democratic National Convention failed to give any Latinos prominent speeches. A notable absence was Julián Castro, who had been the first Latino to deliver a keynote address at the convention in 2012. This year, he had been the only Latino candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

The numbers from Latino voters had been worrying for a while. I wondered if Biden would try to rectify his issues with Latino voters with a Latina pick for vice president. (Perhaps New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, or Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.) But no.

The ‘Latino vote’ is in many senses a false premise. While Latinos are the largest minority group in the US, at 18 percent of the population, they are not a monolith. They tend to identify with their country of origin, be that Mexico, Puerto Rico or Cuba, far more than with some vaguely defined ‘Latinidad’. Cuban-Americans, many of whom had an easier route to citizenship until 2017, are often viewed as having a different set of political priorities to other Latinos. This is changing though: younger Cubans are not the reliable Republican voters that their parents and grandparents might have been. 

Clearly the Trump campaign viewed Latinos in Florida, and Cubans in particular, as crucial to victory in the state. He had been campaigning hard in Florida for years. Last year, he changed his official residence from New York to Florida. His campaign mobilized Cuban and Venezuelan voters with a simple message: Joe Biden is a radical socialist. This message is effective with these groups, who blame communist governments for the near collapse of Venezuela and the suffering in Cuba. This tactic has been used by Republicans in Florida for decades. That Biden, a deliberately moderate pick, was not able to counter this messaging was a failure by his campaign. They would have known it would come up. For example, during his 2018 campaign for Senate, Rick Scott accused Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum of wanting ‘big government and socialism’.Rick Scott, Florida’s governor from 2011 to 2019, and junior senator for Florida since 2019, is perhaps the poster boy for Republican tactics in Florida. While he maintains a hard line on issues often considered antithetical to winning Latino votes like immigration, he has mastered a personal touch that has proved crucial to his victories. This is because he is proactive: he takes weekly Spanish lessons; he visited Puerto Rico eight times following Hurricane Maria; he makes the effort to attend events that are important to the Latino community. He also spent the most money on Spanish-language advertising of any entity during the 2018 campaign cycle: $4 million. This meant he succeeded not just with Cuban voters, but with other Latinos including Puerto Ricans. Moreover, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s narrow victory in the 2018 midterms was largely attributed to his decision to choose Jeanette Nuñez, a Cuban-American, as his lieutenant-governor.The Republicans had an advantage over Democrats in Florida only because they put in the effort. They knocked on doors, they went to events, they chose Cuban running mates. They did not assume their policies alone would win over Latino voters. Instead, they realized that politics is a popularity contest, and sometimes it’s the cosmetic touches that win you the crown. Biden’s failure with Latino voters in Florida may not have cost him the election, but it certainly cost him the landslide for which some Democrats were hoping.