A report by Marc Caputo for Politico.
It’s the latest cultural wedge issue in an effort to persuade Hispanic voters that the left is too radical.
The culture war is officially a food fight.
For the past week, Latinos have warred on social media after the CEO of Goya Foods effusively praised President Trump at a White House event. Democraticcritics like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a boycott and other liberals posted social media videos of themselves dumping the iconic brand’s signature spices down the drain. Conservatives fumed about cancel culture or mocked the boycott on Facebook with memes like “Black Beans Matter.”
On Wednesday, Trump fueled the controversy, posting an Instagram image of his trademarked thumbs up sign of approval as he sat in the Oval Office with an array of Goya products in front of him — appearing to provide an endorsement to a private company from the historic Resolute Desk.
“@GoyaFoods is doing GREAT. The Radical Left smear machine backfired, people are buying like crazy!” Trump claimed earlier on Twitter.
For the president, it’s the latest cultural wedge issue to seize on in an effort to persuade Hispanic voters that the left is too radical — from redefining Spanish to remove gendered nouns so that Latinos are instead called “Latinx” to attacking a popular brand that’s synonymous with Latin American cooking.
“Not even croquetas would be safe in Joe Biden’s America. Pass it on,” the Trump campaign’s Latino Twitter account, Equipo Trumpo, said Monday in reaction to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich calling for a boycott of the company.
The campaign is also discussing whether and how to push the message beyond social media and into paid Spanish-language TV and radio ads.
Joe Biden’s campaign — which has so far dismissed Trump’s approach as an act of desperation by a president deeply unpopular with Latinos — should be wary of writing off the controversy as a distraction, said Chuck Rocha, who masterminded Sen. Bernie Sanders’ well-regarded Latino outreach during the presidential primary.
“It’s more than something for people to laugh at. It’s real,” he said, noting that his Instagram page has been clogged for days with videos of people throwing away Goya products.
“You have all of this fire, all this hatred for President Trump in the Latino community,” Rocha said, “and then you have the most-trusted thing in the Latino household — which is the Goya spices, the Goya beans, everything. And it just was a punch in the gut to see the head of something so culturally iconic for Latinos — Goya — standing up there with the most-hated figure who symbolizes everything going wrong in our society. It was just a tsunami of anger.”
Rocha, the head of a new Latino-centric super PAC helping Biden, said Democrats and the Biden campaign can effectively use the attention of the Goya controversy to pivot back to what Hispanic voters really care about: the president’s botched coronavirus response, his immigration policies, his harsh rhetoric equating many Mexicans with rapists and drug dealers and his troubled handling of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria decimated the island in 2017.
Despite that litany, Trump is still essentially polling as well against Biden among Hispanics, if not better, as he did against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Trump trails Biden by about 35 percentage points — 3 points better for Trump than in national 2016 exit polls, according to a new survey of six Hispanic-heavy states conducted by Latino Decisions, a firm that was recently hired by Biden. The Latino Decisions poll showed the president trailed Biden by 26 points in Florida and 27 points in Arizona — essentially where exit polls had Trump in 2016.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed the president with 38 percent support among Hispanics against Biden, a 10-point improvement for Trump compared to 2016 exit polls. The survey also showed Biden faring far worse than Clinton by only receiving 45 percent support. The 10-point difference between Trump and his opponent, however, might be far bigger because Quinnipiac had a relatively small sample of Latino voters that affects the margin of error for those polled in this demographic group.
Still, though Biden is besting Trump overall in nearly every national poll, the Democrat’s support among Latinos has been relatively weak for more than a year. Trump’s campaign is not pretending it can win Latino voters, but it seeks to define Biden negatively to minimize the size of the Democrat’s margins and to dampen Hispanic enthusiasm to keep their turnout low.
That’s where the Trump campaign’s interest in the Goya food fight comes into play.
Florida’s former Republican lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, said Democrats’ attempted boycott of Goya won’t work because the brand is too popular and, if anything, it could backfire because people will resent the overreach.
Lopez-Cantera remembers that, during Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection in 2014, his last campaign trail stop was at Goya’s massive new distribution center in Doral, a two-for event where the Republican ticket showcased local business and Latino outreach.
In 2011, Lopez-Cantera noted, Goya CEO Robert Unanue attended a White House event with President Obama without incident. On Thursday, Unanue stood with Trump in the Rose Garden and said that “we are truly blessed, at the same time, to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder.”
Lopez-Cantera said the different reactions were notable.
“Conservatives didn’t say ‘boycott Goya!’ when they participated in an event with the Obama administration,” Lopez-Cantera, a Republican, said. “But now that Goya does an event with Trump — where they’re highlighting policies that help the Hispanic community — it’s time to boycott? That’s the problem with the left. It’s not about policies. It’s about politics and Trump.”
But Latino Decisions’ pollster Matt Barreto said Trump overreached by trying to exploit a name brand, prompting the outraged response. “Trump didn’t understand what that was going to do with the average Hispanic-American psyche to see this brand they associated with … and it was not just being associated with Trump. It was lying that he was ‘truly blessed’ to be associated with this president. It’s just really shallow outreach.”
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, was widely mocked for tweeting a Tuesday night picture of herself holding a can of Goya black beans and giving the English and Spanish versions of the company’s trademarked slogan: “If it’s Goya, it has to be good. Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.”
Trump followed up with his own social media messages the following morning. Barreto said it’s reminiscent of Trump’s ham-handed tweet on Cinco de Mayo in 2016, when he gave a thumbs up over a taco bowl and proclaimed, “I love Hispanics!”
“It’s a complete misstep. In the long run, it will end up backfiring,” Barreto said. “People are going to realize he’s not sincere about this effort and that that’s the sort of window dressing he’s offering Latino voters: ‘hey, I’m friends with the guy who sells black beans in a can.’”