The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Who are Trump’s political allies in Puerto Rico? Explaining the island’s political factions.

President Trump praises Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative Jenniffer González-Colón (R) for their hurricane response. (Video: Reuters)

Whom did Puerto Rico go for in the 2016 presidential election?

Well, technically, nobody.

Although Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they don’t vote in the general election. The territory’s residents do, however, participate in the primary elections — and while Democratic voters chose Hillary Clinton, the island’s Republican voters chose Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), the candidate who launched some of the most brutal attacks on the future president.

Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, has only nonvoting representation in Congress. And political parties other than the Democratic and Republican parties run island affairs.

These are the most dominant political parties in Puerto Rico:

  • The New Progressive Party: A conservative political party, but its members are affiliated with both the Democratic and Republican parties.
  • The Popular Democratic Party: A centrist party that aligns mostly with the Democratic Party.
  • The Puerto Rican Independence Party: A social-democratic party that advocates for independence from the United States.

Nearly 42,000 Puerto Ricans participated in the territory's Republican primary and overwhelmingly chose Rubio. More than 88,000 residents participated in the Democratic primary, with Clinton winning the competition.

But island residents weren’t able to vote in November's presidential election. However, residents who had moved to the mainland United States were eligible to vote in the presidential election.

During President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday to observe hurricane relief efforts on the island, he praised Puerto Rican politicians who had praised his response.

“Your governor has been — who I didn’t know, I heard very good things about him,” Trump said about Ricardo Rosselló. “He’s not even from my party, and he started right at the beginning appreciating what we did.

“He was tremendously supportive,” Trump added. “I just want to tell you that right from the beginning this governor did not play politics. He didn’t play it at all. He was saying it like it was. And he was giving us the highest grades.”

Actually, while Trump gave his administration an “A plus” for its response to Puerto Rico, Rosselló has expressed fear that Congress would shortchange the island once the initial wave of emergency relief is gone.

“We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster in Puerto Rico,” he told The Washington Post on Sunday night. “It can’t be minimized and we can’t start overlooking us now that the storm passed, because the danger lurks.”

Rosselló, who took office this year, is the president of the New Progressive Party. It supports statehood for the island. Rosselló is a centrist on social issues and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2008 for Hillary Clinton and in 2012 for Barack Obama.

Trump also praised Jenniffer González-Colón, the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico and a nonvoting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, for praising his team’s response to Puerto Rico.

“She was saying such nice things about all of the people that have worked so hard,” he said.

“And it’s not about me,” Trump added. “It’s about these incredible people from the military to FEMA to first responders. I mean, I’ve never seen people working so hard in my life.”

Like Rosselló, González-Colón is a member of the New Progressive Party. She's also a member of the Republican Party, where she has held leadership positions. González-Colón supported Rubio in the 2016 election.

Trump, unsurprisingly, did not praise Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, whom he attacked on Twitter over the weekend as having “such poor leadership ability.” Cruz did attend the Tuesday briefing. She belongs to the more centrist Popular Democratic Party, and she campaigns to maintain Puerto Rico’s status as a self-governed, unincorporated U.S. territory. But she has, at times, advocated for more independence.

Cruz endorsed Clinton in the primaries, then withdrew her support.

Although he did not acknowledge her in his briefing, Trump suggested before heading to Puerto Rico that Cruz recognized his administration’s efforts.

“I think she’s come back a long way. I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that,” he told reporters.