We’ve been subjected to some really absurd Republican presidential candidacies for the 2016 Republican nomination. Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson are prime examples. Donald Trump has been exposed as a policy lightweight, a self aggrandizing fool, and a racist birther who can’t let even the slightest jabs go without response. Carly Fiorina is improbably campaigning on her record as HP CEO despite her horrible record with that company, its dramatic stock price decline while she headed the company, the tremendous drop in share earnings for investors, as well as the exporting of jobs and huge number of layoffs she signed off on while CEO. Ted Cruz is another self aggrandizing twit who doesn’t seem to remember his legal training, calls into question the legal rights of those who aren’t Christians, calls American Christians “persecuted,” and seems bent on alienating as many non-Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians and other religious people as is humanly possible. Ben Carson has, like Trump, exposed himself as a self righteous bigot, ironically saying of Muslims what was said of African Americans as recently as 2008, that they are not qualified for the presidency.
However, one Republican candidate has emerged who needs to be taken very seriously. He is a real threat to Democratic control of the presidency, as well as being a reason the Democrat’s could possibly lose one of its key constituent groups. That man is Marco Rubio (R-FL).
For some reason, Donald Trump took after Rubio. I have no idea why. He went after Rubio for a few things, not the least of which was Rubio’s use of personal credit cards. That comment simply underscores that Trump isn’t like the rest of the world, that he’s not like the average person: many, if not most, Americans carry credit card balances from month to month. Not everyone was born heir to a $200 million dollar fortune. Some of us had to rely on our own sweat and blood, as well as our parents’ assistance (short of a multi million dollar inheritance) and, yes, consumer debt, to get through college, land in a career and, ultimately, succeed. Trump seems to not know or understand – or if he does, chooses to ignore – that people with young families, who don’t have two incomes and do have several children often have to reach to simply make ends meet. That’s even more true when, as with Sen. Rubio, the person has to maintain a pair of homes due to his professional life. And, again, Sen. Rubio’s wife does not work outside the home. So everything depends on his senatorial salary. There’s no shame, there’s no dishonor in using personal credit responsibly. And, since Rubio has paid off $100,000+ worth of student loan debt from law school (cum laude graduate too, by the way), we have to presume he’s being responsible in using his consumer credit.
But Republicans and independents should thank Trump for noticing Rubio, for Rubio is a serious man. He is a serious candidate for President. And Rubio is a very serious danger to Democrats on a number of different levels.
First, if the Republicans do it tastefully, properly, and well, Republicans can restake a claim to Latino voters. That’s not simply because Rubio, son of Cuban immigrants (legal immigrants and naturalized citizens too, folks), is himself Latino and speaks Spanish. It’s because many of his positions jibe quite well with Latinos generally. What too many people don’t know or fail to acknowledge is that Latinos, by and large, are conservative people. We can’t really make generalizations about Latinos, for the Latino population includes folks from multiple countries, with multiple heritages, histories, and experiences in the Old Country, as well as many different dialects of language (i.e., one size Spanish really doesn’t fit all). But we can make some generalizations and those are based on survey results. Those surveys indicate that, in the main, Latinos tend to be more conservative than other “ethnic groups.” That’s in quotes because, again, Latinos are not a single, unitary block; they really do span a large number of groups (linguistic, historic, racial, religious, to name a few). The general Latino perspective on such issues as abortion, same-sex marriage, and a few other hot button issues tends to be more conservative than their most recent voting trends. So why do Latinos seemingly vote against those views?
The reason Democrats have gained the bulk of Latino voters in the last couple of presidential elections is almost entirely due to Republican failure on immigration issues, which is of more than some importance to that segment of the American population. Republicans have made Latinos scapegoats in the immigration debate (it should be a discussion, not a debate, but that’s kind of the point). Republicans, as evidenced by Trump’s foolish comments, tend to view all Latinos as criminals or, at the very least, illegally seeking benefit of America without doing things ‘the right way.’ Again, Latinos have been made the villain in the debate and without any sort of nuance or attempt at nuancing the very complicated immigration issue. Sen. Rubio, having worked on immigration while in the Senate, has a credible claim to being both responsible on the issue as well as forward thinking. That combination is hard to come by on either side of the aisle.
Next, we have Sen. Rubio’s gravitas itself. He’s no lightweight on policy matters, no person given to shorthand or sleight of hand with regard to policy matters. He’s thoughtful and well spoken on the issues. Whether you agree with his positions or not, you have to concede the seriousness of his positions and views and respond accordingly.
Sen. Rubio is also someone who can work across the aisle to achieve a workable, bipartisan agreement on issues. He did that on immigration, working with both his own party (e.g., Sens. Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, John McCain) as well as with Democrats (e.g., Sens. Michael Bennett, Richard Durbin, Robert Menendez, and Charles Schumer). Anyone who can help craft a realistic, practicable agreement on such a difficult, potentially divisive issue, is a serious person, a serious candidate, who needs to be well regarded.
You might think of Senator Marco Rubio as Paul Ryan with a personality and Sarah Palin with a brain. He can be charming personally and knows issues and how to speak to them. He similarly won’t say that people need to “speak American,” and is kind of an “every man” who people will respond favorably to. He’s not tied to any particular special interest group (e.g., the Tea Party) and appears to be his own man.
If the Democrats are serious about retaining the presidency, they have to come up with a way to neutralize Sen. Rubio. Because otherwise this young man could well change electoral politics for many, many years to come.