MIAMI, Florida — Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump’s unorthodox campaign in Florida is still neck-and-neck with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the latest polls, despite being outmatched in spending in this critical battleground state. The race remains close in large part thanks to the “movement” he often references from the stage at his rallies nationwide.
Over the past several weeks, Breitbart News has spent time with a variety of Trump backers in Florida—ranging from his campaign’s state co-chairman and Florida GOP vice chairman Joe Gruters to grassroots activists and die hard supporters—to figure out what exactly is driving Trump’s appeal in a state with 29 electoral votes critical to either candidate’s White House chances.
Carlos Arias, a second-generation Cuban-American and die hard Donald Trump supporter, is a Miami native who works as a biomedical professor by day. But, by night, he is on his own dime and with his own time building support for the Trump campaign in the Cuban community here—using traditional grassroots organizing tactics, and newer ones through social media. As part of his effort, Arias manages the Cubans for Trump Facebook page. But he also walks the streets of Little Havana working his friends, family, and neighbors over to Team Trump.
“What’s there not to support about the guy?” Arias told Breitbart News in a sit-down interview before taking reporters on the streets with him. “I mean, he’s an amazing leader. He’s a very intelligent guy. He has an expertise for making deals, for making trade deals, for the economy, for money, for running business. He’s an entrepreneur, he’s a successful family man. He obviously loves his family.”
Jose Uz, a 48-year-old native Miami resident of Cuban descent, told Breitbart News he’s similarly impressed with Trump’s business acumen. Yet Uz places even more weight on Trump’s desire to help the country—without any competing interests other than his love for the United States.
“I believe that Mr. Donald Trump is an individual that has the best interest for the United States, for America, and for its citizens,” Uz, who runs the 2,600-member Facebook group Cubans4Trump, said in an interview. “He doesn’t need to prove anything, he doesn’t need to become famous, he doesn’t need to become rich, he is already there – on the contrary, this is actually something, when I view it, I say, my God, what a huge burden he has voluntarily placed on himself. It’s almost to the point of masochism. He didn’t need this, he has a privileged beautiful life. One that he has earned with his hard work and intelligence. Why would he do this? There is nothing for him to gain out of it. But there actually is, when you look deep into it. What he actually has to gain is ensuring and securing the future of his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren, and everybody else down the line, and all of us that are within the United States. He is going to secure us in the way of keeping us safe.”
Joe Fernandez, a Cuban immigrant in his late 50s, told Breitbart News he supports Trump for similar reasons.
“I believe he is a patriotic man, he knows a lot about international relationships, and business, he will bring some new ideas,” Fernandez said. “He looks like a tough guy. He is from New York. Now a days life is very strong [hard], a lot of difficult times. We need a strong man.”
Ariel Martinez, a 42-year-old man from Havana now living in Florida whose father and other family members were political prisoners under the Castro regime in Cuba, supports Trump for president as well. He said there is broad support for Trump in the Cuban American community.
“The Cuban American community supports Donald J. Trump as the candidate for Presidency because we would like to see America thrive again,” Martinez told Breitbart News. “We want to see God, American values, the love of Country, and Patriotism restored in our great nation. This is primarily important to us because we come from a system that the latter has been substituted for the corrupt ideology of communism. The freedoms in this country, under a two term Obama administration, are slowly being eroded toward a state of socialism and will lead us to a socialist nation. Which is simply a precursor to communism. We, the Cuban American community, believe that Hillary represents a third term of Obama’s ideology which this country cannot afford. For us it is quite simple to see what is slowly unfolding in this great nation of ours because, we didn’t learn it in a history book, we lived it and it is precisely where we are headed. We have found that Donald J. Trump has started a movement, here in South Florida, where all races from everywhere—Latinos, Hispanics, Blacks, Jews—have united as one force to show unwavering support for the presidential candidate. We do truly believe that we will witness a Reagan-like victory that will make history.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the other hand, does not fare so well in the Cuban community. When asked how Trump’s opponent, Clinton, is viewed in the Cuban community in South Florida, Arias used a Spanish word to call her a “witch.”
“They call her a ‘bruja,’ basically,” Arias said is what his friends and neighbors think of Hillary Clinton. “She’s the bruja mentirosa. Which means liar. She’s a lying witch basically. We all know what rhymes with witch, though we’re not going to get into that. She is typically viewed as a liar and dishonest and in it for herself, a typical career politician that doesn’t care about the interests of the Cuban community—and doesn’t care about the interests of Americans in general. She’s mostly in it for her people and her foundation.”
“I don’t see her ready to take such an important position as President of the United States,” Fernandez said of Clinton.
Uz added that she has no idea how to manage the economy.
“There is no politician out there especially Hillary Clinton who has any idea of how to manage money because they never actually earned any,” Uz said. “Whether it was ten million or one million, whatever he supposedly borrowed from his father, its no secret that he turned it into a multi-million dollar empire. It’s not a thing about having money, its about knowing how to get that money make it multiply and make it grow. Its about put[ting] together organizations, how to manage them, how to put the right people in the right positions, know[ing] how to delegate to the right individuals and how to create jobs – how to be able to create an environment that is friendly for the individual to be able to sustain themselves and their families. Mr. Trump understands very well from having been inside big business his entire adult life, how special interest and cronyism actually works within the government and big business. Politicians don’t know how to earn money, they only know how to take money from special interest groups and lobbyists and enrich themselves from doing favors. Their payouts come later on with consulting jobs and getting paid half a million dollars to speak half and hour to somebody or to a group of people.”
The Cuban leaders found a recent media attack against Trump to be particularly gratuitous. Specifically, the allegation that has surfaced in recent weeks is that Trump was doing business in Cuba in the 1990s—when it was still illegal to do so. Arias brushed off the report, which came from a NewsWeek piece that claimed Trump was unlawfully doing business in Cuba, as a “cheap attack.”
“A cheap Democratic strategy,” Arias said. “And how convenient [for it to come] right after the first debate where he clearly dominated her?”
Fernandez said the attack from NewsWeek was “a lie.”
“He tried to do business [with Cuba] but when he saw how things was, he stopped that immediately,” Fernandez said.
Over the course of the past several weeks, Breitbart News has conducted a number of interviews and traveled to a variety of Florida cities—and Trump events—to get a feel for how his campaign in the all-important Sunshine State is shaping up on the ground. For a time at the beginning of September, it seemed Trump had taken a lead in Florida—a CNN/ORC poll conducted after Labor Day had him up three points over Clinton while a JMC Analytics poll had him up four and a PPP poll and a Suffolk poll each had Trump leading by a single point. But a bevy of other surveys since then—a Monmouth poll showing Clinton up 5 points, a Mason-Dixon poll with her up 4 points, and New York Times and Fox 13 polls with her up one point in each—have come out dampening his momentum. A new Emerson poll in Florida has Trump up by 1 point, while Quinnipiac and University of North Florida polls have Trump down 5 points and 3 points respectively. A Breitbart News Network/Gravis Marketing survey at the beginning of October had a tie ball game at 46 percent apiece for Trump and Clinton, while the latest Breitbart/Gravis survey released a little over a week ago has Clinton up 4 in Florida with a 2.3 percent margin of error. A steady stream of surveys since over the middle of the month of October have shown Clinton with either a 4-point or three point lead. All told, the race here in Florida is close: The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Clinton, overall, leading Trump by under 4 percent–just inside or just outside all the polls’ collective margins of error, too close for comfort for both candidates.
Trump shocked the political world just a few short months ago when on March 15 he smoked the Sunshine State’s favorite son Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in the primary here, leading to the end of the Rubio campaign—once thought to be the campaign of the eventual would-be nominee—by nearly 20 percent. Rubio and Trump have since mostly buried the hatchet, and seem to be working together to win in November.
Gruters, Trump’s Florida co-chair who also serves as the vice chairman of the Florida GOP, dismissed any potential idea that there is conflict between Trump supporters and operatives loyal to Rubio. “Because I’m a part of both organizations I know there is no daylight in between electing Donald Trump and Marco in Florida,” Gruters explained. “We all share the same goal of stopping Hillary Clinton and Patrick Murphy’s dangerous agenda.”
But the brutal primary left a bitter taste in some mouths of others throughout the state’s GOP establishment. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another of Trump’s vanquished rivals who he went even harder against to defeat, has broken his pledge to the Republican Party and is refusing to endorse Trump for president. Several others in the Bush family, including Jeb’s father former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and the senior Bush’s granddaughter Barbara, are reportedly supporting Clinton for president.
His campaign in the state here has shaken itself up post primaries, with Karen Giorno—his state director during the primaries who delivered a successful election night back on March 15—moving up to New York City while Susie Wiles has taken over the state’s efforts in the general election. Giorno’s move to New York came after reports that she confirmed to Politico that there were disagreements between her and other GOP officials on how to handle resource allocation for the general election.
“I won’t sugar coat it. I’ve had serious put professional disagreements with some colleagues about what offices should be open and how they should be rolled out. But there’s nothing nefarious here,” Giorno said after the move, according to Politico.
Politico’s Marc Caputo quoted Giorno as attributing some of the blame to “bureaucratic red tape in getting leases signed and getting money out the door.”
But, Giorno said in the early September report: “Susie Wiles is a winner. She knows how to win.”
Gruters told Breitbart News in hindsight that this move has proven to be a sign of the team’s success, since Giorno has been invaluable—sources in the national campaign confirm to Breitbart News—up in New York while Wiles has been getting the trains moving on time in Florida.
“Susie Wiles will take what Karen created and take Karen’s team and make sure we win,” Gruters said. “I think Karen did a fantastic job. I credit Karen, I credit Susan, I credit the team, and I have no doubt we are going win.”
The real question is—with such a bare-bones operation in the primaries, and a similarly skeletal operation in the general election—how did Trump win so big back on March 15? And why is he still in the game when Clinton is outspending him at an unbelievable clip? For anyone other than Trump, seemingly, the lack of support from such party luminaries as former presidents like the Bushes would be a deal-killer for their campaigns. But Trump, somehow, is hanging on–and has a chance here on Nov. 8. Maybe it is because the election isn’t about him, but about an amorphous political movement that has gotten behind him since early in the primaries; a nationalist, populist movement that rejects the thinking of the political elite—and the status quo—and instead represents more of a grassroots rebellion against the political class than a typical Republican versus Democrat battle.
At Trump’s rallies throughout the state of Florida—and really everywhere in the country—he’s drawing thousands and thousands of people, many of whom never have been involved in politics before. Trump’s strategy, aides note, seems to be focused on targeting the most expensive battleground state’s ten separate media markets with massive rallies, taking whatever earned media he can get, and building excitement on a grassroots level via social media and making rallies as fun as they can. At a recent rally up in the I-4 corridor of Melbourne, Florida, near Orlando, for instance, three millennial women told Breitbart News that Trump’s plan is working.
On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Trump is criss-crossing the Sunshine State yet again with a rally in Naples on Sunday, rallies in St. Augustine and Tampa on Monday and a rally in Sanford on Tuesday.
Trump seems to gather his non-traditional campaign style from his career in business. He does not look at campaigning like a traditional politician, and he baffled the pundits and political consultants throughout the primaries by successfully storming his way to the nomination with less than 100 staffers compared to what amounted to standing armies his opponents like Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had built. Since he has become the GOP nominee, he has rounded his campaign out with many more staff nationwide—at the headquarters up at Trump Tower in New York City and throughout the states like this—but he still has that businessman mentality at heart. The challenge he faces is building a winning campaign without losing his flair, and without sacrificing his style. Trump’s Florida team, despite the usual suspects in the prognosticating business bashing them, says everything is going according to plan.
“The media is pushing this narrative that Hillary should be winning because she has more brick-and-mortar offices than we do,” Gruters said. “We only had two brick-and-mortar offices in the primary and we won 66 of 67 counties. We are going to knock on 120,000 doors just this Saturday alone.”
“The story told by the media is that we have no ground game in Florida,” Gruters said in an email. “As our boss likes to say, ‘the proof is in the pudding.’”
Gruters detailed for Breitbart News exactly what is going on in the state for Trump:
- 60,000 supporters attended Trump rallies in the last month
- Hillary’s attendance still struggles in small venues
- We are trending with 10% of rally attendees becoming volunteers
- Today we have over 70,000 volunteers statewide
- All 67 counties are organized with county level leadership
- We have outpaced the Democrats in Florida in new voter registrations this year
- Republicans have registered 67,000 more voters than the Democrats since January
- Obama won Florida in 2012 by just 75,000 votes
- Opening 25 field offices, currently employing 30 Trump staff and 75 RNC employees in Florida, rolling out in coming week
- Roughly 300,000 more Republicans voted than Democrats during the August 30th Florida Primary
Meanwhile, while Trump builds his army and his momentum—all while crashing through Florida whenever possible with major thousands-strong rallies—Clinton is slipping. Even the New York Times recently lamented her dreary Florida weather in an article titled: “Hillary Clinton Struggles To Gain Traction in Florida, Despite Spending.”
“Hillary Clinton has vastly outspent Donald J. Trump on TV ads in Florida. Her 57 campaign offices dwarf Mr. Trump’s afterthought of a ground game. And Mr. Trump is deeply unpopular among Hispanics, who account for nearly one in five Florida voters,” Trip Gabriel wrote for the Times on Sept. 17 under that headline. “Despite these advantages, Mrs. Clinton is struggling in the Sunshine State, unable to assemble the coalition that gave Barack Obama two victories here, and offering Mr. Trump a broad opening in a road to the White House that not long ago seemed closed to him. Mr. Trump is pressing down hard to win the state, campaigning in Miami on Friday and in Fort Myers on Monday, after a rally in Pensacola recently.”
Politico came out with a hit even harder more than a week later, just a few days ago, writing in a headline that Clinton was in “panic mode” with black voters in Florida.
“To kill Donald Trump’s chances of capturing the White House, Hillary Clinton needs to win Florida. And to do that, she needs a big minority turnout,” Marc Caputo and Daniel Ducassi wrote on Sept. 28 in Politico. “But Democrats are beginning to worry that too many African-American voters are uninspired by Clinton’s candidacy, leading her campaign to hit the panic button this week and launch an all-out blitz to juice-up voter enthusiasm.”
Trump is bolstering pre-existing establishment political infrastructure with energy, enthusiasm, new voters, and motivated volunteers. The Trump campaign is depending on that infrastructure to provide the ground game for voter engagement and turnout.
Trump’s primary campaign outperformed the primary campaigns of both Sen. John McCain in 2008 and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012. Andy Badolato, who in addition to contributing to Breitbart News serves as an elected GOP committeeman in Sarasota County in Florida, explained it this way: “Trump set new primary GOP records in Florida receiving almost 50 percent more votes than Romney did in 2012 despite running against Florida resident favorites Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson as well as defeating handily Ted Cruz.”
Badolato added that Gruters has been crucial to the whole effort.
“Joe Gruters demonstrated courage and leadership in the face of great personal risk and political adversity in backing Trump very early and leading his campaign in Florida,” Badolato said. “Joe was ostracized, ridiculed and attempts were made by his own peers and close friends to oust him out of many organizations and associations. Joe Gruters recognized the issues of what the Florida electorate really wanted and it was clearly not an establishment candidate.”
According to Gruters, he started supporting Trump after presenting Trump with the Sarasota Republican Party’s “Statesman of the Year” award in 2012. “I knew early on that Trump is going to be our President, he’s an agent of change and he’s going to give all of us a chance,” Gruters said. “Every time something negative came out it just further convinced me that I had made the right call. All the comments, negativity, and everything else just made me stronger because I knew in 2012 Trump was special.”
For Gruters, all the credit goes to the “all star” Florida campaign team and the man at the top of the ticket. “Trump is going to be one of the best President’s we’ve ever had and it all gets to two things, security and jobs and the economy,” Gruters said.
But while the campaign staff and party players sort out the details, what seems to keep Trump afloat right next to Clinton is that completely organic “movement” that people like Arias represent. To further highlight the opposition to Clinton—and support for Trump—in Miami’s Cuban community, Arias invited Breitbart News cameras to follow him as he stumped for Trump in Little Havana in Miami.
And Uz, similarly, has a message for all his fellow Cuban Americans throughout South Florida.
“This is the last stop,” Uz warns his friends and neighbors. “If we lose America there is no place else to go. You were lucky enough when you lost Cuba, you had a generous wonderful country, that opened its arms to all of us and allowed you to come in [and] establish your families, expand your education, open businesses, raise your children in freedom, and to live a prosperous good life. If we lose America to socialism, there is no where else to go. Please, please don’t be stupid, don’t listen to the rhetoric. Fidel Castro killed millions of Cubans with his rhetoric, and we fell for it. Please don’t fall for it twice.”