His brother-in-law is a convicted cocaine dealer. He has acrimonious relations with America’s most influential Latino news broadcaster. His biography is falsified. He polls worse among Latinos than do his white peers. He was for years a practicing Mormon, a religion never before held by a president or vice president. He is too inexperienced to be a national leader, according to the highest-ever ranking Latino politician.
Is this the savior who will deliver the coveted Latino vote to the Republican Party this fall?
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is often bandied about as top contender for the slot of vice president to presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney himself has fed the speculation, calling Rubio “one of the terrific leaders” of the party. A Romney/Rubio ticket would offer the strong mix of governor/senator, north/south, white/Latino, blue state/swing state, among other attractions that my Wing Nuts co-pilot Ian Cheney noted Tuesday and in the past at his blog Presidential Politics for America.
But I just don’t see a Romney/Rubio ticket happening. And funny enough, Rubio seems to agree with me and Mr. Cheney that he should be passed over as vice-presidential candidate in favor of Ohio’s Rob Portman. Rubio said yesterday: “I think Sen. Rob Portman would be a phenomenal choice for vice president. That’s where I would encourage [Romney] to look.”
Yet if Rubio does land on the ticket simply because Romney needs a Sarah Palin-like infusion of excitement, it’s bound to crash and burn in a Sarah Palin-like ball of fire for the following reasons:
1. Marco Rubio likes to fashion himself as the son of Cuban immigrants forced into exile after Fidel Castro’s revolution. That’s false, as the Washington Post and St. Petersburg Times reported in October. Rubio’s parents immigrated to the U.S. three years before the 1969 revolution, quite safely and without any dash of Hollywood excitement.
2. Rubio may be Latino, but Cubans are a unique breed. “Cuban-Americans constitute less than 5 percent of American Latinos, and they have their own, very distinct political profile,” The New Republic noted in a fall article. Cubans most often consider themselves as “white” and associate with the hawksih GOP’s fight against communism.
3. Rubio’s brother-in-law, a man involved in Rubio’s career, is a convicted coke dealer. In 1989, Orlando Cecilia was sentenced to 25 years in prison for possession of massive quantities of cocaine and marijuana and traveling to several states to sell and deliver drugs. He was released in 2000. Six years later, he was standing on stage beside Rubio after the candidate’s election to the Florida House of Representatives. Four years later, Cecilia was again standing beside Rubio when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010.
4. Cecilia’s criminal background was a small piece of a larger Rubio profile by the influential Spanish-language broadcaster Univision. It was not necessarily new news, but it became news when Rubio refused to take questions from Univision, as Ken Auletta reported in The New Yorker in January. Univision went ahead with the story; Rubio accused the broadcaster of extortion; the leading GOP presidential candidates refused to participate in any Univision debates; and the GOP subsequently cut itself off from the newsfeed for more than two-thirds of America’s Hispanic population. Univision controls much of the message delivered to the Hispanic voting bloc, and Rubio is now on Univision’s shit list.
5. Rubio’s views on immigration skew toward the extreme right wing of the party. Like Michelle Bachman, who said she wanted a fence to “cover every in inch” of the 2,000 mile border with Mexico, although not so extreme as Herman Cain, who suggested the fence be electrified with an alligator-filled moat on one side, Rubio has said that he is “not against a fence” along the U.S.-Mexico border. He also opposes the DREAM Act and any form of amnesty for illegal immigrants. All these views are anathema to the Latino voting bloc and extreme for the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan himself supported eventual citizenship for all immigrants, even those who entered the country illegally.
6. Rubio needs all the help he can get in rallying the Hispanic vote. While it is assumed that Rubio’s Cuban heritage and immigrant parents will automatically endear him to Latino voters (ah, there it is), he is actually less popular among Hispanics in Florida than Jeb Bush. Moreover, a December nationwide poll found that only 13 percent of Hispanics are more likely to vote Republican if Rubio is on the ticket; 10 percent of Hispanics said that Rubio would make them less likely to vote Republican. “Rubio is becoming persona non grata among Latinos outside of the Cuban-American community,” columnist Ruben Navarrette wrote last summer.
Rubio has no doubt seen the polls. He knows he can not necessarily deliver the Latino vote this fall, telling CNN last week: “The Hispanic vote has to be earned. You can’t just put somebody on there and say, ‘This is gonna deliver it.’” Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the highest-ever ranking Latino leader, also senses something missing, saying last week that the junior senator might generate interest among Latinos “for the first 12 hours if selected for the number two spot, but that won’t last.”
Rubio, of course, has his advantages. Namely, his Hispanic moniker. Fortunately, the Hispanic population knows that color is only skin deep.