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New Yorker: War of Choice

Author: Ken Auletta
Jaunary 9, 2012

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The New Yorker's Ken Auletta writes that while Marco Rubio is seen as the potential superman to carry the GOP in this election, his stance on immigration may not win over the Latino vote.

Marco Rubio, a Republican who is the junior senator from Florida, has a full head of thick black hair and a movie star's baby face. He speaks passionately and argues persuasively. Just forty years old, he has the youthful glamour of a Kennedy, with an attractive wife and four children. Tea Party activists love Rubio, and he is surely the most prominent Hispanic Republican in America. His longtime political mentor, Al Cardenas, who is the former Florida Republican state chairman, thinks Rubio's most winning quality is his humility: "He's the kind of young man you want as your own son." Rubio's parents immigrated from Cuba during the Eisenhower years, and, in his first speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, in June, Rubio sounded a little like a certain former junior senator from Illinois, who soon went on to bigger things. "We should never forget who we Americans are," he said. "Every single one of us is the descendant of a go-getter. Of dreamers and of believers. Of men and women who took risks and made sacrifices because they wanted their children to live better off than themselves. And so, whether they came here on the Mayflower, on a slave ship, or on an airplane from Havana, we are all descendants of the men and women who built here the nation that saved the world."

National Republicans say openly that Rubio is a top contender to be the Party's 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee. He could, they suggest, secure victory for the Party in Florida and win over Hispanic voters in other states, many of whom have been angered by the G.O.P. Presidential candidates' harsh positions on immigration. Political betting markets list Rubio as many times more likely than anyone else to be the nominee. "Rubio is our superstar," Ed Rollins, a former Presidential campaign manager for Ronald Reagan, Mike Huckabee, and Michele Bachmann, says. "He would be my first choice. My premise is that if you can add someone to your ticket that gives you a state you don't have you're way ahead of the game. No Republican can win without Florida."

But other Republicans worry that straight identity politics (Republicans need to win over Hispanics; Rubio is Hispanic; Rubio is our savior) might not work in their favor in this case. Rubio's positions on immigration are to the right of those held by most Hispanic Americans. And these views have helped lead him into a war with Univision, which is the dominant Spanish-language media outlet in the country, and which champions immigration reform. Many national Republicans have stood by Rubio in that conflict, but it is politically risky to fight with a network that has as much influence as Univision and, more important, it is perilous to maintain positions on immigration that anger the majority of Hispanics. Because Rubio comes from the small Cuban community, whose members have long been granted automatic citizenship—as political exiles, not as immigrants—he risks being perceived by Hispanics as an out-of-touch ťlitist. Earlier this year, the conservative columnist Ruben Navarrette wrote on CNN.com about the political dilemma faced by Rubio and his party: "Marco Rubio is the Republican Party's Superman. And the immigration issue, if not handled correctly, is his kryptonite."

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