Column: Marco Rubio isn’t going to win Hispanic votes for himself, Republicans

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., poses for photos during a stop at BOC Water Hydraulics on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in Salem, Ohio. Rubio spoke about energy during a speech for his Republican presidential campaign tour. (Scott R. Galvin/AP)

Rubio is a valuable asset to the Republican Party. What’s not to like? At 44, he’s the youngest candidate running of any party. He’s Cuban, eschewing familiar party demographic traditions. He’s quite hip, enjoying the Wu-Tang Clan and watching Netflix. He has also cited Minecraft in anti-Common Core speeches and endorsed Uber, displaying his better-than-average flair among many of his co-workers for millennial-oriented technology.

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is strongly considering an endorsement, and with that a ballpark donation of $100 million, in keeping with the sums of his past preferred candidates.

But some people are not as keen on the Florida senator, specifically the population he’s supposed to draw votes from. Rubio’s main folly from the Hispanic electorate: inconsistent, vague stances on immigration.

Following the failure of the bipartisan, 1,198-page “Gang of Eight” bill he helped to co-sponsor, Rubio has since renounced his past views, which included a 10-year path to a green card and citizenship three years later. Instead, he is now advocating a piecemeal approach to dole out certain provisions from the bill over an unspecified period of time. I’m guessing he hasn’t mentioned specifics simply because he doesn’t know.

If he wins the Republican primary, then he can’t run for the Senate, and if he loses the presidential race, then his political career is in a bit of a jam. It’s hard to predict things when the future is so tenuous.

The piecemeal strategy certainly makes sense, though. By initially acquiescing to his party and securing the border, he can then address Democratic concerns about a reliable way to citizenship. Retrospectively, the Gang of Eight bill was too massive for Congress to properly digest; if something like the Affordable Care Act evidenced anything, it’s that our legislators don’t like expansive overhauls of current systems, regardless of their current functionality or lack thereof.

That said, it is Rubio’s lack of specificity with his immigration plan that grates on the Latin American constituency so.  Alfonso Aguilar, a former immigration official under George W. Bush and executive director of the American Principle Project’s Latino Partnership, told Politico this: “(An unspecific immigration plan) is the kind of sloppiness that I think opens the door for a lot of people, Democrats in a general election, to question if he’s really committed to immigration reform.”

Additionally, Rubio’s spokesperson, Alex Conant, declined to specify how Rubio would consider a border secure or how long the entire process would take under his hypothetical presidency. I can’t fathom how anybody would expect to know something like this before they’re even in a presidential race, but the Hispanic electorate still wants to be appeased with a more substantial answer, considering what a relevant issue it will always be.

 Another issue worth highlighting is Rubio’s nationality, and how it actually speaks to the Hispanic bloc at large. (This technically applies to Ted Cruz, too, although he hasn’t given the Hispanic voters any reason to consider him.) As the son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio and his parents experienced a drastically different and ultimately easier transition to a steady American life.

In short, under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Cuban defectors who successfully evaded the U.S. Coast Guard, stepped on the shores of Florida and stayed there for at least a year were granted a green card and put on a fast track to citizenship in what is called the “wet foot, dry foot” policy. Contrast that with Mexico or any other Hispanic country, and it’s just not that simple.

Since the U.S. and Cuba recently resumed diplomatic relations, there is talk of amending the bill to not include this stipulation. Overall, Rubio’s immigration experience does not represent the broader Hispanic constituency and speaks to the Republican Party’s unfair homogenizing of Latin Americans.

Lastly, there’s another Republican establishment candidate from Florida with Latin American ties that is beating Rubio in the polls within this bloc. Jeb Bush considers children of illegal immigrants to have earned citizenship. He also has a plan to grant legal status to undocumented workers once meeting criteria such as learning English and paying back taxes. Sometimes being of a similar ethnic background as a group of voters isn’t enough. Who would have thought?


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.