The Republican spokesperson balances with elegance. Colombian Jaime Florez avoids taking sides regarding a partisan internal battle underway, a few days before the start of the Iowa Caucus. But at the same time, he assumes a reality that at this point cannot be concealed: Donald Trump is the favorite to become the GOP candidate again. Florez has more than 40 years of experience in the different variants of communication. Born in Bogot√°, he worked as a journalist in written media, radio and TV. He was a political spokesperson and director of corporate public relations. He lived in his hometown, also in Rio de Janeiro, in New York and, now, in Miami.
In May 2021, after Trump left the White House, he was appointed as the Spanish-language spokesperson for the Republican Party. It was a particularly difficult context that continues to this day. Florez represents the unified voice of a GOP in which mistrust still reigns between Trumpist leaders, moderates and opponents of the former president's leadership. The outlook for 2024, however, appears calmer and more orderly than that of 3 years ago. Many polls predict a victory for the opposition in November. In an extensive dialogue with LPO, Florez talks about Trump's dominance internally and about the responsibilities for the attack on the Capitol in 2021. Furthermore, he blames Joe Biden for both the immigration crisis and the accumulation of cases against Trump and he is excited about Javier Milei's management in Argentina.
How important will the result of the Iowa Caucus be in the Republican internal race?
More than decisive, because Iowa is a small state with a limited number of delegates. It traditionally exposes where the issue lies. It is the starting point of the game. We hope that these counts mark a trend for what the rest of the primary elections will be like. In this case, there is no precedent in the sense of magnitude. It is practically defined, according to the polls, former President Trump will win. It could mean the election of enough delegates to win at the July Convention, although it seems that the definition could come much faster, as the polls are coming.
If Trump prevails, will 100% of the Republican Party align behind his nomination?
Yes, without a doubt. The candidates who participated in the debates signed a commitment with the Republican National Committee to support the candidate chosen by the Convention, and who will be officially nominated by the party. It's what we call "the politics of defeating Biden." It is firm since it is signed. And there are precedents in this sense. When the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court came about, the other candidates supported the former president in the attack on democracy of which Trump has been the target.
Is there a history of this level of belligerence among Republican pre-candidates?
It's normal in the primary election process. In the primaries, each of the candidates wants to shine with their own light, have their own imprint and leave their mark. When the process ends and we come with the official candidate, the usual thing is that all the others unite around the chosen one to move the party forward. There have been some exceptions, but it's traditional. And in this case, the country urgently needs someone to take charge of all the crises we are going through, economically, internationally, domestic security, the border crisis, and a series of issues in which this administration has been absent. The party and the candidates understand that change must be made.
Who do you think will be Trump's vice presidential nominee?
It is a sovereign and autonomous decision of the candidate, and of no one else in the party. It is usually whoever the candidate and his/her very direct environment choose. There is no record that the party has imposed or suggested someone. What is traditionally looked for in a vice president is someone who adds to the formula, who is from a new ethnic or racial component, from a new region or in accordance with a gender issue. Many people said that the ideal formula for Trump would be to have Ron DeSantis as vice president, which would not add much, because the two are very similar in personality, origin and the way they see things. Additionally, they both come from Florida.
Could Trump's nomination this time alter that traditional calculation for choosing the vice president?
This occasion is much more special because, as things are going, we could have a president busy with judicial issues that they have tried to set up to derail his campaign. And the vice president would have to be someone really prepared to run the country while the president gets rid of all these problems.
After the experience with Mike Pence, will the value of trust be an extra component in the vice election this time?
Yes, and when it comes to the background that we know about Donald Trump, for whom that is essential: loyalty, the full trust that he should have in his vice president, especially after what happened with former Vice President Pence. Some people consider that he was not loyal to the president. Others consider that he did what he had to do: respect the Constitution and maintain that distance. But Trump was obviously not satisfied.
What do you think about Pence's actions?
I think he did what he had to do and that left him out of future considerations. Which is unfortunate. Former Vice President Pence is a very good man and a great person. He was a great public official and a great Vice President. But it was a very difficult historical moment. He had to do what he did, because at that time the Constitution was more important than loyalty to the figure of the then president. From my personal point of view, he did what he had to do.
Did Trump do wrong during the 2021 Capitol attack?
No, I think that the Capitol attack was not decided by him. It wasn't even his strategy. Democrats support it to try to take political advantage of this situation. It's unfortunate because it also left several people dead. The purpose was simply to protest against what they considered to be, and many still consider, irregularities in the counting of votes from certain states. There are signs that some things did not go well. It's not about questioning the outcome of the elections.
Do you doubt Biden's legitimate victory in 2020?
We, as the Republican National Committee, recognized Biden's victory. There was no evidence to help us prove that these things happened and, for the purposes of what was best for the country, it was important to leave that chapter closed. And so we did it. But there is still discontent and one of the things that our voters repeatedly tell us is that we should not only worry about voting for our candidates, but also ensure that, when the votes are counted, there is justice and loyalty. Democracy allows us to elect our leaders, but it also forces us to keep this system functioning alive and loyal. It is of no use to us to go out and vote if the results of the elections do not reflect the will of those who vote. We have the duty to guarantee that electoral processes are clean and transparent. And if not, we have the right to claim it. That's what people were doing there. I know many people who were there and who had nothing to do with any violent event. They were just exercising their citizen rights.
But there were very violent situations...
Yes, there were also indications that those in charge of security did not take the corresponding measures to avoid the excesses that unfortunately ended up occurring. But trying to take advantage of this, linking people who were not even in Washington that January 6, only to harm the interests of the Republican Party, it seems to me to be a very dirty, very low move of the Democratic establishment. This has been investigated throughout all these years. But they found a vein there that allows them to destroy the image of the 45th president of the United States. And they have tried to do it, without any success, because absolutely the opposite happened. Every time Trump is accused of something new, his popularity increases significantly and so does his campaign fundraising.
Do you think that the legal cases against Trump are ordered from the White House?
Yes, definitely, for the White House and for the leadership of the Democratic Party. Which is headed by the president of the United States, the most important Democrat. It is part of a strategy that, unfortunately, those of us who come from Latin America have seen in countries like Nicaragua, where Daniel Ortega prosecutes anyone who may be his adversary The same as Nicol√°s Maduro against Mar√≠a Corina Machado in Venezuela. We have repeatedly seen this judicial persecution in banana republics. But we never imagined that something so disgusting and shameful would happen in the United States.
How is this influence of the government on justice deployed?
There is evidence that the government does indeed have some interference. We have seen the Department of Justice slow down. We have seen the Department of Justice slow down prosecutions against the president and other distinguished Democrats. Meanwhile, when there are cases against Trump, they spread at full speed. The House of Representatives met repeatedly to study the events of January 6, 2021. A Commission was created, without the presence of any Republican. Only Democrats participated. They dedicated themselves to reviewing Trump's actions. And nothing happened. They couldn't prove anything, because there is nothing to prove. It doesn't exist. They call this "insurrection" and analyze the movement of vehicles that take them nowhere. There is no connection between what happened and the Armed Forces. But they are accusing the commander in chief of the United States Armed Forces.
Was the Capitol Attack spontaneous?
There was a group of people, not very significant either, from 600 to a maximum of 1,000 people who participated of their own free will. It's true, the president, through the media, asked people to come out and protest, that that was unacceptable. And he asked for it eagerly. And he asked for it eagerly. But he never say that they would enter by force, or that they would kill anyone. Nor do they attack the physical integrity of the people who were there. That did not happen and there is no evidence that can prove anything even similar. There is nothing and this will come to light when the Supreme Court finally makes decisions and investigates. What we have is politicization of some officials of the judicial apparatus, prosecutors and judges, who should be more interested in dispensing justice than in managing their interests. It's clear in a New York State prosecutor who was elected using the promise of "ending Trump" as a campaign. It shouldn't be like this: politics is one thing, justice is another. One of the fundamental values of our democracy is the independence of the branches. Neither the Executive nor the Legislative can use the judicial system for the interests of their wing of power. If the president did not have the levels of popularity he has and the potential to become president again, none of that would be happening. It happens because they know it can be real. But if things go as they seem, the president will be Donald Trump again.
Given this atmosphere of persecution that you describe, what guarantees are there so that Trump does not take revenge and repeat this politicization of justice against Biden and the Democrats?
There is a big difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party today. The Republican has aspects, nuances, tendencies. People criticize us a lot: "You are not a united or monolithic party." Well, united and monolithic is the Communist Party in Cuba. Everyone votes the same. Everyone has to do what the leaders tell them to do. Something similar happens in the Democratic Party. They do not even have a candidate trying to obtain the nomination against Biden. There are no debates and no involvement. And everyone knows, many of them have spoken out, that Biden is not the best candidate they could have. Because of his age and his cognitive problems, because of the results and the very low levels of popularity. But in their organization there are no reconsiderations. There is criticism, but what the president intends is done anyway. In answer to your question, if Trump wanted to do this kind of thing, people will emerge within the party who will oppose him, people who have even opposed his nomination as a candidate. He has already had to face criticism for not participating in the debates. The Republican Party is much more of an institution than the Democratic Party today.
Wouldn't a second Trump presidency create an even more polarized and tense society?
Yes, it could happen. But I don't think it should be a fundamental consideration. I don't think that living in a more comfortable country is more important than living in a more prosperous, more solid and better structured country, where the economy returns to what it was in the previous administration. That international relationships return to what they were. And let us once again get the respect of our enemies and the trust of our allies abroad. Where we can have clearer domestic security, with cities that stop being dens of criminals and crime rates do not continue to increase. With a border under control and a truly fair and humanitarian immigration system. All of this, President Biden has not fulfilled. A boom has been created for the trafficking of human beings and narcotics at the border. We are electing the first president of a Nation and not our public relations director. So if you like to handle your Twitter, if you talk to the media in a less diplomatic tone, that's right, that's your characteristic. But there is no doubt that he gave us a much better government than this of these three years.
Is there really a risk of fraud in this election?
There is always a risk of fraud for a number of reasons. There are still questions about who handles the ballots in some States. Because in the US, unlike other countries, each state has the option to manage its elections autonomously. There are states that allow ballot collection: a person can bring their ballots, plus those of their friends and neighbors to present them directly. And there were scandals in that sense. In places where older people live, someone is in charge of collecting everyone's ballots, and it turns out that everyone ends up voting for the person who is the "collector." The handling of absentee ballots is a serious problem in several states.
What other mechanism of the very particular US electoral system favors fraud?
Another issue is that some states send ballots to all the people who appear on the registry and not only to those who request them. And many people no longer live in the place where they had their registered address, or they even died. But those ballots end up somewhere. And it is not difficult to collect them, fill them as appropriate and deliver them. So, the Republican Party has set up a large election integrity department with volunteers and lawyers. And we've already had to push and fight in some states. It is a permanent struggle.
Why are you so sure that the national Supreme Court will empower Trump and reverse the Colorado and Maine bans?
Very quickly the Supreme Court of Justice will make determinations in this regard. First, because it can decide to what extent this theme of insurrection is valid. Second, the article of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution was written with a different spirit than the one they want to take advantage of now. It was to prevent people who had participated in the civil war on the losing side from having positions in the new government. That doesn't apply to this situation. Furthermore, the Colorado Supreme Court is wrong to sanction someone whose guilt has not been proven by any court. No court has said that Trump actually participated in an insurrection. This is what they presume, four judges in a court of seven. The Constitution establishes the presumption of innocence, not guilt. Faced with the same issue that Trump was banned from Colorado, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the president. This is going to fall very quickly in the other states. Furthermore, regarding the underlying issue of the events of January 6, 2021, there is no evidence to rely on. It's not going to interfere in the election.
Will people vote mostly concerned about democracy at risk, as Biden suggests, or about the economic situation, as Trump claims?
There is this Bill Clinton's phrase: "It is the economy, stupid," and I think it is appropriate at this time for Biden. People are not going to fall into the trap of the crisis of democracy when they notice that it is precisely the Democrats who have attacked democracy. They will find out when the resolutions of the Supreme Court of Justice are issued. Republicans have the right to choose our candidates. It is not four state Supreme Court justices or five bureaucrats who decide who the country's Republicans have to vote for. It will be very clear that there was no attack against democracy on the part of President Trump. It was quite the opposite. Nothing is more important for democracy than the right to exercise and defend it.
With two candidates who are 80 (or almost) years old and many voters who would prefer a replacement that does not appear, do you perceive a leadership crisis in United States politics?
There is something unfortunate that does not occur only in the United States. It appears to be a global trend. The enemies of democracy, which may not be perfect but is the best system we have, have managed to discredit the system. Who wants to be president of the United States when it means being subject to a series of impeachments on false grounds, such as, for example, the issue of collusion with Russia that never existed? Who wants to be president of a country if your enemies are going to be behind you, trying to cause you any problem to end your peace of mind and your freedom for the rest of your life? So yes, unfortunately, the candidates we have are the ones we have. We have a huge number of people with extraordinary qualifications to be much better presidents of the United States, but they do not want to participate in the hassle at all levels. Not just at the presidential level, but you see it in municipal councils and state legislatures. Good and capable people are afraid of getting involved in the hustle and bustle of politics. Furthermore, you can progress without so many difficulties and with better salaries at the private level.
How do you get out of the paralyzing tie between forces that is seen in Congress?
With strong and true majorities, whether on one side or the other. With parties that really drive. It is essential that we restructure the parties so that they recover the value and the power to change the things they had. Power that they should have and that we need. Never before had the vice president broken ties in so many decisions in the Senate, as now with Kamala Harris. The other thing that is essential in Congress is to limit the number of terms of a senator or congressman to two terms. Because some stay there indefinitely.
We are facing very high numbers of daily arrests on the southern border. How big is the migration crisis?
To the extent that 10 to 12 thousand immigrants enter every day. We do not know who they are because there is no logistics and structure, we are going to have that number, or more, arriving every day. That makes it difficult for us to have an immigration reform that works.
What do you propose?
The first thing we have to do is simply close the border or control it, so that we only accept the immigrants that we can actually process. As part of this reform, we urgently need to increase the number of officials at the service of guarding, supervising the border and providing assistance to these people. So that we can process all of these people and not have them waiting years and years for the regularization of their immigration status. The border issue must be solved now.
Where did the Biden administration go wrong on immigration policy?
He should not have issued executive orders that ended the "Remain in Mexico" policy. It was essential to process the flow, so that it does not overflow and condemn us to an open amnesty, without even knowing who we are giving the amnesty to. People have arrived from different countries without us being able to analyze what type of criminal record they have.
Do you mean any particular country?
Venezuela, for example, with all the respect we have for Venezuelans and how good it seems to me that they have the option of coming here after the tragedy they experienced in their country. But we do not know if all the Venezuelans who are arriving are free of criminal records, because we do not have a helpful government that provides us with that information. As long as these things are as they are, it is essential that we close the border, control entry and transportation. The border crisis also brings another humanitarian crisis: hundreds of people killed trying to cross a river. This is as the result of the president saying in his campaign: "We are going to let anyone who comes here enter." This country needs a number of immigrants. But we must establish which ones, with what kinds of skills and where in the country we need them. Like all other countries in the world do. Republicans, contrary to what people say, are not against immigration. We are in favor of legal and orderly immigration, unlike now when our national security is at serious risk.
Don't you think that at times Trump does have a more openly anti-immigrant speech?
It's his style and, in some way, it has worked for him. I would like to maintain my neutrality in the primaries, but people listen to him and support his proposals. We must also put ourselves in the shoes of those who live in this country, have paid their taxes and made their contributions to social security, and suddenly see their well-being and stability at risk. This at the expense of a president who cannot control inflation and has given entry to 8 million people. There may be many people unhappy with that. And perhaps what the former president is trying to do is to appeal to those people and gain their sympathy.
Isn't the idea of closing the border utopian? Desperate people are going to keep trying to get into a rich country like the US.
It is true about humanitarian disasters, but I have not seen that it is the US's duty to solve the problems of the population of the rest of the world. We cannot close ourselves off from giving that humanitarian aid, but we must assume that we are no longer that rich country that we were. We also have serious economic problems. A very significant segment of our population suffers from them. We see it every day in California, which just gave medical security to all undocumented immigrants. But in parallel it has a very serious problem: people who have not a house, who has no access to health and basic food. This country has serious internal problems to solve, before fixing those of the rest of the world. There is no point in bringing millions of people here if we are going to have them living in the same misery they left behind. The only thing we are going to do is change the language. We are going to have them living in the same misery but in English. You're right. There is no way to close the border, but to control it, close certain steps and discourage people from coming.
How important will the Latino vote be in this presidential election?
I think Latinos vote depending on the issues at stake. For example, the immigration issue is an important issue, but not for Puerto Ricans. They are Americans by birth so the immigration issue does not exist for them. They are more concerned about the island's economy and how to gain more political power. Mexicans, Central Americans and people from other countries also have completely different interests.
What elements unify Hispanic voters?
Fundamentally, all Hispanics agree on the basic issues: the economy, job creation, stability, the education of our children and the safety of our neighborhood. Starting from there, Venezuelans have their own interests, Colombians and Argentines have theirs.
Why do you think that many Hispanics became Republicans in recent years?
President Reagan already said it: "Hispanics are Republicans, the thing is that they don't know it yet." Lately, they've noticed. We have made sure that they became aware of it. Hispanics align much more with values and principles typical of Republicans than with those of Democrats.
More conservative values?
Much more. Furthermore, Hispanics have been disappointed because the Democratic Party turned its back on them. Since they took for granted that "Hispanics are Democrats," they never did anything to earn that preference. Barack Obama promised an immigration reform. He was in power for 8 years, with control of both chambers, and he never made it a reality. Hispanics were tired of false Democratic proposals and found answers during the last administration. Never before had they had the opportunity to buy their own home like during the Trump administration. They also see with terror how this administration and Biden's Democratic Party are tending increasingly towards the left, with sinister characters like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib. Those of us who come from Latin America know how the wolves arrive in their sheep's clothing, ossifying themselves in power forever. But people are much smarter than their leaders and their media.
What is the link between the Republicans and the incipient management of Javier Milei in Argentina?
There is a very clear relationship with Congresswoman Mar√≠a Elvira Salazar, who has a personal connection with Milei. From the Republican point of view we welcome the fact that Argentina has moved away from the leftist tendency from the government of N√©stor Kirchner, his wife and, through her, the outgoing president.
How do you assess Milei's management so far?
Obviously, it's in a waiting period. We wish Milei the best of luck because the better things go for Argentina, the better Argentina will do. We see it with that hope and expectation, even though it won't be easy.
The Biden administration looks at Milei with suspicion...
The Biden administration is not exactly the most interested in the success of Milei and conservative ideas in the rest of the world. But we welcome the fact that international banking is operating in favor of Milei's government, and the United States is part of that banking. The Republican Party supports Milei, because that means supporting Argentina's economic renaissance and its return to the leadership it deserves in its area. It's not going to be easy, especially because of the dangerous neighbor Lula da Silva in Brazil. But in this new administration Lula has other, much more pressing problems.
Translator: Bibiana Ruiz.
Please do not cut or paste our notes on the web, you have the possibility to redistribute them using our tools.