In 2011, a young Latino from Florida was elected to the US Senate. His name was Marco Rubio. Rubio rode into prominence on the backs of and with the support of the Tea Party movement; he was the extreme right’s response to Obama. He was young, good looking, articulate, and… Brown. A perfect poster boy for the Tea Party’s rebuttals to any claims of racism. You could almost hear it – Surely we cannot be as racist as the rest of the country believes we are if we own support this guy, Marco Rubio!
Over the last three years, Rubio has worked diligently to separate himself from the more extreme factions of the Tea Party party while maintaining his GOP conservative principles and credentials. More recently, he was recognized in Time magazine as The Republican Savior to which the Senator promptly and “modestly” responded via Twitter (and I paraphrase) that Jesus is the only Saviour. That said, he’s relished the spotlight and has played up to the notion that he can turn the party’s image.
The GOP has had high hopes for Rubio. He is now the poster boy for GOP diversity, a son of Latino immigrants, coming from a family of modest means, and having benefited from student loans and government programs for his educational attainment and subsequent success. His own mother is a current recipient of Medicare. All government sponsored programs based on policies that Rubio would oppose based on a fiscally conservative GOP agenda. While I am loathe to call him a hypocrite, I would argue a level of inconsistency and hypocrisy in Rubio’s positions over the last several years. He’s done a bit of the Romney flip flop enough to lead us to wonder what his real positions are.
In his rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) speech, Rubio proceeded to crash and burn… horribly. Now I will stipulate (as have others) that is not easy to follow the SOTU, especially when that person’s last name is Clinton or Obama. But if you accept the task and are seen as the second coming of the GOP (and we all know the GOP needs a major shift), you better be able to handle it when the cameras come on and its time to speak. I felt awkward FOR Rubio. It was uncomfortable and an important moment for the GOP fell apart. If Rubio is supposed to the be the new face of the hip cool conservative who knows who Tupac is (and allegedly listens to him a la Paul Ryan’s playbook) and this was supposed to be a bi-partisan introduction akin to a blind date, then we were introduced to a sweaty, nervous, shaky, and uncomfortable disaster. And the chemistry was off. And it was a let down.
First impressions mean a lot. They matter. Especially to someone who doesn’t really know you.
Let’s look at Rubio’s response to the SOTU. He noted that his parents immigrated to the US, yet his original position on immigration reform was decidedly anti-immigrant, until recently, and it’s still questionable. Rubio benefited from many of the government programs that made him the “successful” person he has become, only now, he would like to cut many of those programs that offer opportunities for low and middle class people coming up behind him. Rubio offered JFK and Ronald Reagan up as supporters of free enterprise as a means of growing the middle class arguing Obama is opposed to the notion. Only it is VERY obvious that Obama has more in common fiscally with Reagan than any current sitting Republican member of Congress, in fact, given an introspection of the Reagan’s policies of the 80’s relative to today’s current GOP climate, he never would have made it out of California much less to the presidency (you can thank Republican Jeb Bush for that bit of insight).
So what now?
It is time for the GOP to seriously reflect on who they are as a party. This really is a historical time for the party to consider who they wish to be, what they wish to represent, and how they plan to get there for the long haul. Its not that difficult. There is a strong history of reform in the Republican party until they decided to be the party of old, white, and privileged. Putting forward members of the party who have more pigment will not help the party. Re-establishing itself as a more moderate and sane party would go a long way for attracting a more diverse group of people.
The Democrats managed to do this successfully during Clinton’s years in spite of the fact that some of Clinton’s policies were decidedly unhelpful to many people of color. Yet, their perception of Reagan/Bush played a huge role in how the two parties were viewed among African Americans and Latinos in this country. So Democrats were able to enact welfare reform legislation under Clinton that hurt more than helped the poor and communities of color who were impacted.
So Republicans, Rubio is not your saviour, he doesn’t even come close. You will have to find a more sincere way of revamping and retooling your image, by actually doing it. You will have to align more with the middle, you will have to take a page from Meagan McCain’s book, you will have to made some hard decisions. You will have to get rid of the Tea Party/GOP image. You will have to become more bipartisan and not because you feel that you have no choice, but rather because democracy and accountability calls for it.
Rubio can be helpful to the GOP, he can be a leader in the GOP, but as far as being its saviour? Mmm, not so much….