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Here's the real motive for Trump's Cuban policy move

  • President Trump announced his decision to reverse the Obama administration's policies on Cuba.
  • A closer look shows that the policies aren't that different than what we have now.
  • But the rally and Trump's words came off beautifully in front of a key voting block.
People react as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about policy changes he is making toward Cuba at the Manuel Artime Theater in the Little Havana neighborhood on June 16, 2017 in Miami, Florida.
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People react as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about policy changes he is making toward Cuba at the Manuel Artime Theater in the Little Havana neighborhood on June 16, 2017 in Miami, Florida.

At a packed and raucous auditorium in Miami's Little Havana Friday, President Donald Trump announced his decision to reverse much of the Obama administration's relaxed diplomatic and travel policies with Cuba.

A closer look shows that the exact details of the Trump administration's changes haven't been completely hammered out and even when that happens, they're not expected to be all that different than the Obama policies. From what we do know, our embassy in Cuba will remain open, travel will still be generally allowed, and there will be no limits on items like those famous Cuban cigars and rum, that Americans can bring back from the nation.

But people who are focusing on the hard policy differences and the actual effects this move will have on the Cuban regime are missing the forest for the trees. President Trump's speech and rally were a perfect piece of political theater and messaging. And the event had a lot more to do with the Cuban-American vote in 2018 and 2020 than diplomacy.

The event was complete with emotional moments, including President Trump listing almost every one of the Castro regime's crimes, the names of the Castros' most famous victims, and he even invited a once-jailed Cuban female dissident to join him for a hug and to say a few words at the podium.

If your heart strings weren't already sufficiently pulled, then you could watch and listen to another former Cuban dissident who played the Star Spangled Banner on his violin as he once did as a child in Havana at great personal risk.

"President Trump's speech and rally were a perfect piece of political theater and messaging. And the event had a lot more to do with the Cuban-American vote in 2018 and 2020 than diplomacy."

But again, this wasn't just empty theater. The power of presidential messaging over actual policy continues to become clearer and clearer during the Trump presidency. President Trump trotted out all the key themes during the rally Friday, and most importantly he showed up to Little Havana in the first place instead of simply making the announcement from the Oval Office or the Rose Garden. He came to the voters, and that's always a powerful gesture.

Another important person at the event was Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio and President Trump traded vicious words during last year's Republican primary process, but the sight of Rubio speaking so passionately in favor of the president's move and President Trump's reciprocal praise for Rubio underscored the vital role Cuban-American voters play and will play in Florida's swing state vote.

But perhaps the biggest win for the Trump team on this issue came hours before he even arrived at the rally and executive order signing ceremony. The Miami Herald editorial board, which endorsed Hillary Clinton for president last year and called Donald Trump a "damaged human being," came out in strong support of President Trump's move Friday.

Our diplomatic relations with Cuba are an everyday story for the Herald and Miami's other major news outlets, and its nod to President Trump here is a strong boost for the White House.

As former House Speaker Tip O'Neil said: "All politics is local." And in a make-or-break state like Florida, President Trump has taken a stand that will boost him in a locality that means a lot more than most others in our national elections.

It really doesn't matter how solidly different that stand is from existing policy. The move was extremely effective in ways that go way beyond a small island nation 90 miles from our border.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.