Is Marco Rubio Republicans’ Salvation with Latinos?

Anyone who watched television or read newspapers after the Republican’s losses in the November election saw many references to Marco Rubio. Convinced that they needed to gain Latino support if they were going to do better in future elections, Republicans began to develop a “Latino strategy.” A more moderate stance toward “immigration” (read: immigrants without documents from Latin America) was part of this strategy. Another component was improving their image with Latinos by a larger role to Latino Republican office holders. Foremost among the latter is Marco Rubio, Senator from Florida, son of Cuban immigrants. He leads the Republican campaign on immigration reform. Hailed as a rising star, he has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in the 2016 election.

Rubio has many features that seem to appeal to Latinos. He is fluent in Spanish and boasts of his hard-working Cuban immigrant parents. Unlike many Cuban origin political leaders in Florida, Rubio is not an Ivy Leaguer. He went to a modest college and law school and borrowed $100,000 in student loans. A regular guy. This might help explain why he won 55 percent of the Latino vote in his successful run in 2010 for the U.S. Senate.

To be a significant magnet for the Latino vote, Rubio would have to appeal not only to Cubans in Florida but also to other Latinos throughout the country, Mexican Americans in particular. They represent the largest number of Latino voters and I don’t see why Rubio would necessarily appeal to them anymore than another candidate.

Rubio’s immigration reform plan does not stand out when compared with the Democrats’. It has much in common with Obama’s except that it falls short on a crucial issue: it does not provide a path to citizenship to the “Dreamers.”

Finally, it is not likely that Republicans would unite behind Rubio should he present a bill that formalizes his immigration plan.

If his immigration plan is not as generous as Obama’s, his stand on entitlements looks miserly vis-à-vis the Democrats’. Latinos, as other individuals, would face the adverse effects of cuts in government programs that Republicans obsess about. These are not good auguries if Rubio has ambitions to gain Latino support for a candidacy for the Presidency. As a long-oppressed population, Latinos will look askance at a candidate that doesn’t address their interests wholeheartedly and is a member of a party long devoted to the interests of white elites. Bottom-line is that being a “Trophy Latino” won’t be enough to get him elected President.

But what about Cubans? This Cuban exile will not vote for Rubio because of the tenor of his political ideas. But I’m a liberal academic. How about average Cubans? I asked my Cuban sample in Miami, that is, my aunt and her children, about their views on Rubio. They said that they would have to see his entire agenda before they could support him. My aunt and my cousins are a tiny, non-probability sample. However, they have provided me for years with reliable information about the Cuban community in Florida. Knowing Rubio’s policies, I doubt that they’ll vote for him. My hunch is that many other Cubans will feel the same way.