Sarah Palin. Michael Steele. Marco Rubio.
They all have something in common besides being captivating Republican Party sales agents. They all had perfect political timing.
But destiny-beckoning can also be an ironic, double-edged sword.
Recall John McCain’s Hail Mary choice of Palin as his improbably unqualified running mate in 2008. It had everything to do with the embattled McCain campaign’s need for a “game-changer.” Right-place, right-time Palin’s key credential: those legions of ostensibly disaffected and disillusioned women voters who wanted Hillary Clinton to make history. Why not take advantage of the Barack Obama-Clinton breach, one that was palpable during the primaries? Why not try to siphon off a lot of those female votes, especially those women who weren’t card-carrying lefties? Why not hope that the experience-knowledge-and-temperament-challenged Palin wouldn’t be seen as an insult?
As it turned out, elections are still won at the top of the ticket. However, the choice of Palin as a sop to female voters was arguably seen by too many females for the sexist affront that it was.
But, hey, Fox was impressed.
Once Obama had been elected, it was apparent to the GOP that it would need a strategy beyond Mitch McConnell’s “make him a one-term president” and conceding the black vote. The party needed a prominent black face of its own to underscore that it was, indeed, much more than the conservative, white guys’ gang. Enter Michael Steele, the well-spoken, black former lieutenant governor of Maryland. He was named the Republican National Committee’s chairman, its first black ever, in January 2009.
But Steele never convinced enough in his own party–including Rush Limbaugh–that he wasn’t a dark-skinned faux right-winger and never projected to would-be converts that he wasn’t a GOP house negro. Thanks to exorbitant spending, a strip-club scandal and some media gaffes, Steele was out by January 2011. And except for the Allen Wests and Herman Cains, blacks continued to stay away from the GOP in droves.
But, hey, MSNBC was impressed.
When the Republican Party chose Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to give its response to the president’s State of the Union address, it underscored the GOP’s post-Obama strategy: “Let’s at least symbolically look like a party of inclusion. Let’s not concede the vote of the fastest-growing demographic in the country: Hispanics. We now have the perfect poster boy: a good-looking, eloquent, barely-40ish Hispanic. Too bad Time magazine, of all publications, had dubbed him ‘savior’ first, but he is.”
But while “demographics are destiny” is a popular political mantra, there’s a lot not to savor in this ethnic “savior.”
Rather than electoral manna, Rubio’s Hispanic lineage could be something less than successful outreach to Latinos. The inevitable–yes, insulting–message: All Hispanics are the same. Whether from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Puerto Rico, it doesn’t matter. Havana or San Juan, no big deal. Recent arrivals or third generation, not an issue. Political prism, no problema. They’re all Rubistas in the making.
Rubio, of course, is of Cuban parentage, which is problematic. The “wet foot, dry foot” immigration exemption, for example, doesn’t play well with most other immigrants, the majority of whom are non-Cuban Hispanics, who have to wait in line or sneak in. Double standards are always hard to defend, even for a glib-gifted, anointed one who is reinventing himself as an immigration-reforming “gang of eight” charter member, one who notably opposed the DREAM Act and supports English as the official language of the U.S.
There’s also Rubio’s continued support of the much-reviled U.S. policy–economic embargo and restricted travel–with Cuba. The one that is increasingly seen–including by next-generation Cuban-Americans–as counterproductive from humanitarian, economic and geopolitical perspectives. What’s best for the Cuban exile community’s vendetta agenda impresses few, whether Anglo, African-American or Hispanic, outside Little Havana. Patriotic exceptionalism is a harder sell when you go to the rhetorical mattresses on behalf of the self-serving foreign policy of the sovereign state of South Florida.
Rubio’s uber-hyped GOP response–the one that trafficked in non-specifics and stereotypes and was delivered separately in thickly-accented Cuban Spanish–was a graphic reminder to Hispanic viewers and listeners, overwhelmingly Democratic, that he wasn’t one of them. He didn’t even vote for Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor. Moreover, there are those among the Cuban community who didn’t appreciate his calculated, contrived back story that his parents fled Fidel Castro, not Fulgencio Batista. It matters among Cubans.
Then there are the issues that are more generically polarizing, and when vetting gets more serious than bad water bottle optics, they will be factors. They will include that party credit-card flap, his suck-up signature on Grover Norquist’s no tax/never-ever pledge, his rhetorical weaseling on creationism, his Second Amendment equivocating on assault weapons and his votes against the “fiscal-cliff” budget compromise, the Violence Against Women Act and the U.N. treaty banning discrimination against people with disabilities.
No, 2016 will be no gimme for Rubio, even though he could nuance and charisma his way through a number of primaries. Skeptics will ultimately await. Ironically, Hispanics could be first in line.
But, hey, maybe Telemundo and Univision will be impressed.