Annie Karni and Patricia Mazzei

c.2019 New York Times News Service

MIAMI — President Donald Trump, speaking to the Venezuelan community in Miami, put an overtly political gloss on his administration’s push for Venezuela’s leftist president to step aside, casting that country’s turmoil as a cautionary tale for those who would embrace socialism.

“Socialism has so completely ravaged this great country that even the world’s largest reserves of oil are no longer enough to keep the lights on,” Trump said. “This will never happen to us.”

Trump used the speech to send yet another warning to President Nicolás Maduro that his days were numbered.

But in South Florida, home to the largest population of Venezuelans in the country, his remarks were also seen as a bid to win over what may be a critical bloc of voters in the 2020 presidential race.

The speech was also squarely in keeping with the president’s recent adoption of “socialist” as an all-purpose epithet for his newly empowered Democratic adversaries in the House.

Many Democratic lawmakers in South Florida have also called for Maduro’s ouster. But the White House has repeatedly opted not to invite Democrats to official events on Venezuela. And in his speech Monday, Trump went out of his way to praise a slew of Republican officials.

To Democrats, all that suggests the president may be more interested in wooing Venezuelan-Americans and other Latino voters than in promoting bipartisanship on the Maduro issue.

In the United States, as the Democratic Party moves left, putting forward ambitious climate change proposals like the Green New Deal, Trump has branded party members as socialists.

He has employed similar language against Maduro.

“We condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” the president said in his State of the Union address this month.

But what might serve the president’s political goals in the United States might backfire when it comes to foreign policy. At least before the speech in Miami, some administration officials said they were concerned that politicizing the issue at home might actually prop up Maduro in Venezuela, where he is unpopular even among supporters of Hugo Chávez, the former Venezuelan president who founded the country’s socialist party.