It’s one thing to for everyone to know whom a major party is going to nominate for president long before it happens. In 2000, for example, it was widely expected that Vice President Al Gore would be the Democratic nominee to succeed Bill Clinton, and there’s nothing strange about that.
But it’s unusual, even bizarre, how it is virtually assumed that the Republican nominee this year will ask Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to be his running mate. Candidates are usually coy about whom they might put on their ticket, but in a recent debate in Florida Newt Gingrich openly said he has Rubio in mind. He has consistently led the Intrade market for the Republican vice-presidential nomination for months.
Rubio, 40, was only elected to the Senate in 2010, after he chased Governor Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary. Prior to that he was just the former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. And unlike, say, Michele Bachmann he had not distinguished himself as a principled defender of extreme conservatism on the national stage. But Rubio became a hero to the Tea Party movement and the right more generally.
Handsome, young, self-made and impressively charismatic, his rise is reminiscent of a certain other first term senator who excited his party and charmed his way onto a national ticket. And like President Obama, Rubio seems to inspire such ardor because of what he embodies rather than what he has achieved legislatively.
And what is it that he embodies? Most prominently it is the false hope that the Republican Party can win over Latino voters.
The Republican campaigns have been chasing the Latino vote for months. Mitt Romney started blasting press releases alleging that Obama has failed Latinos economically last summer. More recently he has aired television commercials in Spanish. In New Hampshire Gingrich held a “Latino Town Hall.” Every Republican candidate has organized his Latino supporters.
Of course this is hypocritical. Republicans routinely complain that identity politics and affirmative action categorize people by groups when everyone should be treated solely as an individual. Even Ron Paul makes regular announcements that ‘Hispanics for Ron Paul’ is welcoming new members. (In fairness, Paul doesn’t limit this to Latinos, press releases such as “ Ron Paul Nevada Team Welcomes ‘Seniors for Ron Paul’ Nationwide Coalition Members” regularly fills my inbox as well.)
It’s all kind of sad. They so earnestly chase after Latino voters, when they won’t have a chance of winning them. The Republican Party’s embrace of harsh language and policies toward undocumented immigrants does not help. Nor does their record of favoring the interests of the wealthy over everyone else.
And Republicans seem completely unaware of the diversity of the Latino community. Rubio is Cuban-American. Politically, that does not mean he has anything more in common with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, or Mexicans. Cuban-Americans are much more Republican and conservative than other Latino immigrant groups.
That, of course, all goes back to the Cuban Revolution and the staunch anti-Castro sentiment among Cuban exiles. The sentiment is so strong that Rubio used to routinely claim his parents fled Castro when they had actually emigrated years before he took power. Such embellishments might prove an embarrassment if he were on a national ticket. So could the fact that his brother-in-law was convicted of drug trafficking. Univision, by far the largest Spanish language network in the United States broke that story, and Rubio’s efforts to bully them into not running it has resulted in him having a very adversarial relationship with them.