First published in The Huffington Post, 03/07/2012
Once upon a time, in what seems now to have been many, many Republican presidential debates ago, Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio was king of the hill.
Not one, but two, of the final four presidential hopefuls, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney winked, hissed, and whispered Rubio’s name as one of the country’s greatest and hinted that Rubio will be their choice for the position of Vice President.
Last year, Gingrich said amid cheers that he, “actually thought about Marco Rubio in a slightly more dignified and central role than being in the cabinet.”
Now, more people may have come to realize how absurd these early declarations were. Marco Rubio is “a Catholic Cuban, but that’s where the similarities between Marco Rubio and Latino voters end,” said Lauren Fox of the U.S. News & World Report this week.
Lauren Fox argued that Hispanics care about topics which are not being addressed by the Republican candidates.
But while Rubio possesses a consistently conservative record, charms audiences with charismatic speeches and represents one of the largest up-for-grabs constituencies in the country, a recent poll shows that the Cuban-American senator wouldn’t necessarily pull Latinos into the GOP tent en masse.
“At this time in our economy, it’s bread and butter issues Latinos care about, and they are more in favor of government solutions than the population at large and certainly more in favor of them than the GOP,” says Brookings Institute demographer William Frey.
Obviously, the hope behind those who mentioned Rubio was that a Latino face on the ticket might help balance the perceived anti-Latino rhetoric the candidates doled out during the campaign in order to attract the Tea Party vote.
But Louis DeSipio, who teaches Chicano and Latino Studies at UC Irvine, contends that it is not enough to speak Spanish, or even to be Latino, to get the vote. “Latinos are not just looking for a co-ethnic, they are looking for a co-ethnic who is articulating a message that they agree with,” he told Lauren Fox.
Furthermore, according to a January poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, Rubio is not well known among Latinos.
53 percent of Latinos don’t know him, and an additional 15 percent do — but don’t like him.
Among Republican Latinos, according to a January 4 poll by Latino Decisions, it’s not much different.40 percent say “¿Rubio? ¿Quien?,” and 15 percent say, “naaaaah.”
Finally, as McKay Coppins revealed on BuzzFeed, Marco Rubio was baptized into the Mormon church.
“Vice presidential candidates are traditionally chosen to provide ethnic and religious balance to a ticket. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and Rubio’s Catholic faith would already mean the first two members of minority traditions on a Republican ticket in American history. Rubio’s Mormon roots could further complicate that calculation,” Coppins wrote.
But it is unlikely that the Republican campaigners didn’t think of any Rubio’s drawbacks.
It is more believable, perhaps, that the GOP never considered him seriously, knowing that the only votes he could bring with him were from the Cuban American, a community which already votes Republican. Their VP ticket show-boating was just that — show-boating, bravado and wishful thinking, while sipping the strong Cuban cafecito.