Those ill winds blowing out of the Caribbean are blowing somebody good, or at least there’s somebody who thinks they’re good. There’s always profit in somebody else’s misery.
Some Democrats in Washington see opportunities to make hay with Puerto Ricans who would settle for a drink of clean water and something to eat. Hurricane Maria, now safely out to sea, has so ruined the island that many Puerto Ricans are encouraged to resettle in Florida, a swing state with the partisan numbers so narrow that only a few more of them could swing it permanently to the left and to the Democrats.
Republicans see opportunities, too. Puerto Ricans, usually Roman Catholic and socially conservative (male brides, however lovely, and orange blossoms make an uninviting mix) have only a superficial attachment to the party of anything goes, as long as it goes to the weird and noisy.
Democrats relish the arrival of younger than usual imports. These are not immigrants, but settlers as American as Texans, Californians or Pennsylvanians, American citizens by a 1917 act of Congress. They can’t vote in federal elections and they have no representation in Congress, but once here all they have to do to vote is to register in their new states. If Puerto Rico can’t have statehood, it can move Puerto Rico to the mainland. Over the past five years Puerto Rico has lost 7 percent of its population of 3.4 million.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello estimates that unless there’s an effective solution to the humanitarian crisis that stalks his island, “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Puerto Ricans seeking refuge could move to Florida, New York and Texas.”
Florida, which is close and familiar, would be the likeliest destination for most, with a climate in common, affordable and available housing and a relatively good job market. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by only 113,000 votes, and enough new Democratic voters would change the erratic Florida voting dynamic.
That’s why the Democrats have been promoting the idea that Mr. Trump has flubbed the rescue of the island’s victims in the wake of the hurricane’s direct hit, much like the federal rescue of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was flubbed more than a decade ago. The president’s flight to Puerto Rico (and the Virgin Islands) will enable him to show his face and see for himself what must be done. Dropping in sooner would have done neither the victims nor the rescuers on the scene no favors.
Many of those tempted to leave at once are likely, in the estimates of demographers, to be the frail, the elderly and the ailing. “You’re going to see a lot of frail people or elderly people with health needs who will be overrepresented in this flow,” Edwin Melendez, director of Puerto Rican studies at Hunter College in New York City, tells The Washington Post. “The health infrastructure has crumbled. It will continue to be younger people searching for employment, but across the board it will also be more people who are dependent on government to survive.”
These are just the people the Democratic politicians in Washington think will be easiest to make grateful voters. “People can’t talk to their families right now,” Mr. Melendez says, “but the minute people can get through they’re going to start buying airline tickets for them to get them out of there. It’s chain migration. Florida is kind to the elderly. People have the same Social Security card, whether they’re [on the mainland] or in Puerto Rico.”
President Trump seems to understand the stakes, and he has the levers to push to do things that might invite a little gratitude from the newcomers. There’s no time to waste because some Hispanic politicians among the Democrats make no attempt to hide the politics of compassion. They pass up no opportunity to bash the president.
“[Mr.] Trump’s tweets are red meat for the third of the country, his base, that is the only thing he has left,” Luis Miranda, a Democratic consultant in New York City and a director of the Latino Victory Project, which helps Latino candidates, tells The Post. “A tweet about Puerto Rico is not good red meat for his base, so he had rather fight about the American flag and what [black] athletes do to raise consciousness.”
More Navy ships have been assigned to the rescue operation, and President Trump has assigned only a brigadier to oversee military contributions (but not a lieutenant general, grumbles The Washington Post). Florida Republicans, led by Sen. Marco Rubio, have taken the crisis more seriously than politicians in Washington.
And why not? All politics is ultimately local, and politics, crass or compassionate, is what moves any government.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.