November 14, 2022   5 mins

For the first time since 2002, Miami-Dade County, 70% Hispanic and once considered a Democratic stronghold, went for the Republicans. In a year when Republicans underperformed across most of the country, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis won his reelection bid in Miami-Dade by more than 11 points, while Senator Marco Rubio won his by nearly 10. It’s a shocking turnaround, especially since DeSantis lost the county by 20 points in 2018.

But locals have long known that Democrats were due for a collapse. With his victory over perennial loser Charlie Crist, DeSantis transformed Miami from a cultural outpost to a diverse Republican haven heading into the 2024 Presidential election. It’s a fascinating turn for a city that has traditionally been considered more Latin American than American — one that highlights the ongoing political realignment stateside.

Miami has been trending red since 2016, when Trump made initial inroads with Hispanics, but last Tuesday’s “red wave” was a surprise. Most observers expected a modest DeSantis victory or a narrow defeat. But I was certain that DeSantis was poised for a big win. Miami has been steadily shifting rightward for years, and the city’s incompetent Democratic operatives have made matters worse by countering with woke talking points and a fake panic about “disinformation” in Spanish-language media.

The seeds of this shift were planted by the Orange Man himself. With his talk of “bad hombres” at the border and “making America great again”, Trump immediately connected with a sizeable number of working-class Hispanic Miamians, many of whom had previously been apolitical. In these early days, the county’s Right-wing crew was mostly a mix of youngish Miami bros and rabid Cuban anticommunists, who made their presence felt in the caravans that commandeered the streets and worsened already awful Miami traffic in the lead up to the 2016 election.

This was a boisterous and fun crowd, enamored by the gaudier aspects of the Trumpian aesthetic, and it was not strictly Cuban. It was an intersectional crew of Hispanic dudes, and as the country was engulfed in flames in the summer of 2020, ladies began to join in on the fun. The Right-wing Latina was born. The caravans and boat parades leading up to 2020 were no doubt the best-looking, and most surgically enhanced, political events in American history — complete with one of the all-time great campaign songs. The city’s vibes were red hot. In 2020, Trump lost Miami-Dade County by only seven points, after losing it by 29 four years earlier. Miami was primed to go red, and soon.

As Miami began to shift Right, local progressive outfits, such as Cubanos Pa’lante, and Democratic Hispanic politicians, such as former US representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, doubled down on Latinx-style wokism and the “disinformation” gambit. Hispanic Miami, hypersexualised and constitutionally politically incorrect, is by its very nature an anti-woke city, but progressive Miami Democrats, captured and funded by the woke white Democratic establishment, cannot confront this reality head on. “Latinx” progressives, unable to deviate from the Democratic funding apparatus, could not speak up and say what they knew to be true: that the weird gender and racial obsessions of white progressives alienate working- and middle-class Hispanics.

Many Hispanics, as has been noted ad nauseum as the Rightward shift continues, are “socially conservative”. In Miami, however, such “social conservatism” often means a simple belief that men are men and women are women. The elevation of the trans woman as the embodiment of Democratic femininity was never going to play here — or with Hispanics anywhere.

Some progressives have tried to explain the Rightward shift of Hispanics by pointing to the supposed “whiteness” of certain Latino demographics. According to woke dogma, Hispanics, especially Cuban Americans, think of themselves as white and are increasingly starting to vote that way. But this is a dodge, conveniently deflecting attention away from the fact that Democratic messaging is full of progressive extremism that appeals to the party’s elite base while alienating everyone else.

The truth is that progressives must focus on wokeness because confronting the reality of what many Hispanics believe on issues like the border, race, and gender would infuriate the elite white women who run the Democratic and media apparatus. This disconnect between the elite party brokers and working-class people of colour is most obvious in Miami, a city that prides itself on its intransigence. Due to their inability to speak honestly, Democrats ceded the most important issues for the city’s voters — crime, immigration, the economy — to Donald Trump and, later, Ron DeSantis.

If you hang around with working-class Hispanics in Miami, you’ll hear some of the most strident immigration policies imaginable: “We gotta close the border, bro. There’re too many people here already.” This isn’t a white dude from Omaha saying this, but a Hispanic guy who probably knows half a dozen people who crossed over illegally. This hardline talk has nothing to do with “whiteness” or Trumpism, but with the realities of living in a city where immigration is a constant. It’s no coincidence that Mexican-Americans living along the Southern border also flipped toward the GOP in 2020. As long as working-class reality is ignored in favor of woke talking points, a truth vacuum will be created.

Into that truth vacuum walked DeSantis, who adopted and then refined the more popular aspects of the Trumpian brand. “Florida,” DeSantis says, “is where woke goes to die.” Like Trump, DeSantis understands that culture war issues can be winners for conservatives. Unlike Trump, he has proved that he has the focus and discipline to follow through on his rhetoric and win the ensuing battles. He went after critical race theory and gender ideology in public schools, banned medical transitions for minors, picked a fight with Disney over the company’s alleged political meddling, and passed the Stop WOKE Act, which has endeared him to traditional working-class Hispanics. According to NBC News exit polls, DeSantis not only won a supermajority of Cuban Americans but a majority of Puerto Ricans and half of other Latinos.

Of course, Hispanics aren’t the whole story here. Miami-Dade flipped in part because of their Rightward shift, but the influx of blue state lockdown refugees certainly didn’t hurt. DeSantis kept schools and businesses open, proclaimed “the free state of Florida,” and the rest is history. Tech bros flooded into Miami, as did regular Americans looking for freedom in what has traditionally been the most non-American big city in the country.

DeSantis’ strength on cultural issues, coupled with his pro-business and pro-freedom agenda, shows that big-tent Republicanism is still possible, so long as the man leading the charge is capable and competent. The expected national red wave didn’t happen, but if Republicans are smart, they’ll follow the Florida model employed by DeSantis, which will draw both working-class Hispanics and anti-woke, pro-America elites. The Trumpian approach was always going to attract the more rambunctious elements of the Republican base, but DeSantis has proven that his measured, workmanlike approach will retain the working-class types — Hispanic and otherwise — while attracting lapsed Democrats and traditional Republicans.

Miami Democrats will have to change course if they hope to retain the city, but their longstanding inability to deviate from woke talking points will make that extremely difficult. They must break from, or convince, the Democratic Party apparatus that Hispanics — the largest minority demographic in the country — are more traditionally American than they suspected.

Alex Perez is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami, and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.