The problems increased for Rubio this week when Bill McCollum, in his own rush to out-crazy a crazy, came out with an Arizona-like proposal to discriminate against Hispanics. This law will give police power during "lawful stops" to demand people prove their legal immigration status. I'm sure white people like myself are busy getting their paperwork in order and making room in the glove compartment.
Rubio, though, can't tell this is a bad idea. His campaign declined to take a stance when asked by Politico. This is pure cowardice, and is worse than his queasy back-and-forth regarding Arizona's law because this will actually affect his constituents should he be elected as a U.S. Senator. I've noted his fearful cowering in the face of tea party anger before, but this bill has particularly horrible ramifications in Florida. And for a man so proud to tout his Cuban-American heritage, I would hope he could see the specific ways enforcement of this type of law could go much worse here than in other parts of the country.
Cuban immigrants don't work by the same rules as those crossing the border from Mexico. We have the ridiculous and arbitrary 'wet-foot, dry-foot' policy, a child of the dinosaur Cuban embargo which every Senate candidate this year ardently supports. Sigh. What that means is Cubans who make it to dry land are not illegal. Does this policy make sense? No. But more importantly in this conversation, it makes it much harder to demand a newly-arrived immigrant from Cuba to "prove" his citizenship.
The law makes no sense anyway. The Arizona law, of course, had its controversial sections tossed in court. That law practically requires discrimination, and even if some of the more onerous parts are scrubbed, it remains bad policy.
But while we can blame so-called conservatives for preventing Rubio from taking a firm stance on that law, his tea-carrying ways don't even make sense for the Republican primary in Florida. If the GOP has any long-range future in the state, it will need a foothold in the Hispanic community, and there are no guarantees that will happen. The Bush administration knew this the last time this Senate seat was up for re-election. That was part of why the White House was so happy to see Mel Martinez as their nominee. Martinez, also a Cubano, was deeply aware that the future of the Republican party was deeply dependent on future support among Hispanic voters.
Read this Martinez quote from the 2004 CNN piece linked above:
"This community is still up for grabs. It's a big factor."
Martinez won that Senate race in a very close contest with Democrat Betty Castor, and he can thank Hispanics for that. Bush also won Florida in 2004, and did so by increasing his share of the Hispanic vote by 7 percent, according to an analysis that year by the National Review. Bush's win was close, and Martinez's was closer, and I think it is fair to believe the presence of a candidate who would become the first Cuban-American elected to the Senate played a huge role in motivating Hispanic Republicans that year.
That National Review report notes that Florida traditionally has boasted the most conservative Hispanic population in the country, thanks largely to the Republican bent of Cubans in South Florida. So why would Rubio, the Cubano conservative hero chosen to follow in Martinez's footsteps, be so unconcerned about preserving that base support? It is, quite simply, insane.
Of course, one constant misperception about the Hispanic vote in Florida is that it is all Cuban, and all conservative. A Pew analysis of Florida's vote in 2008 shows Hispanic Democrats outnumber Hispanic Republicans in the state both in registration and at the polls. Pew also finds that Cubans make up just the third-largest share of the Hispanic electorate, behind Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.
Rubio ought to think about that as he excoriates Mexicans crossing the border, and as he gets wishy-washy on a law that has most detrimentally affected law-abiding Mexicans across this country. Puerto Ricans, who are all citizens, likely won't be too excited about the consequence of this law either. At least he came down on the right side of the offensive "birthright citizenship" issue, but there is little reason for Hispanic voters to galvanize around an Hispanic candidate if he can't be trusted on Hispanic issues.
Fear of upsetting a fast-growing and influential part of the electorate, though, shouldn't be the only reason to oppose this law. It most likely can't stand legal muster, and does nothing to solve the problems of illegal immigration in the first place. As a U.S. Senator, Rubio would accomplish more in this front by helping improve the impoverished way of life in Mexico, or by helping modernize relations with Cuba. But that sort of intervention, the type that can be done without costing the lived of American or foreign lives, is an obvious no-no with the right. Hate is the only tool Republicans have left that reliably gets voters to the poll.
At some point, Rubio needs to consider with whom he has thrown his lot. These hate-mongering conservatives are the same ones who got Martinez booted as chairman of the Republican National Committee and who questioned the citizenship of Columba Bush. The only thing Rubio should be concerned about is when they will turn on him.