I had lunch with a prominent member of South Florida’s Hispanic community not too long ago, who told me, to my surprise, that Marco Rubio has a Cuban problem. On Spanish language radio, apparently (and this person appears on it regularly,) he is often criticized for appearing to deliberately take stands harmful to fellow Latinos just to win over white conservatives, including opposing immigration reform (a priority for Hispanic elected officials), calling Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty grant a mistake, and coming out against counting illegal immigrants in the Census, a strange position that makes xenophobes happy, but which if implemented, would cost Florida billions of dollars.
Indeed, being a black or brown conservative often seems to require making repeated and increasingly vigorous demonstrations of disdain for one’s own ethnic group. Blacks who vehemently oppose affirmative action and Latinos who oppose immigration reform are particularly prized by the right. Clarence Thomas is beloved by white right wingers as much because he is hostile to what they see as the “race hustling” of traditional black leaders as for his Supreme Court rulings (which are just like Tony Scalia’s anyway.) Rubio, by taking hard-right stands on things like immigration, is positioning himself roughly where Tom Tancredo is on issues, which is good for his push-button poll numbers, but which has also hurt him, according to those same (not very sound, but highly media-shiny) polls, with Hispanics, who right now prefer either Charlie Crist or Kendrick Meek, to one of their own. So could Rubio be more properly characterized as the Hispanic Clarence Thomas, rather than the Hispanic Barack Obama? (Thomas’ wife is now a tea partier, so the similarities are growing.)
A piece in the National Journal’s Burn After Reading blog suggests his troubles might be real:
… with Marco Rubio poised to become the nation’s third Cuban-American senator, why haven’t the rainmakers in Florida’s Cuban-American donor community rallied to his side?
His challenges begin with the US-Cuba Democracy PAC. The Florida-based lobbying group is prolific, contributing more than $760,000 to congressional candidates in 2008. In this cycle, it had donated $225,000 to 111 House and Senate candidates across the political spectrum as of Feb. 21, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rubio is not one of them.
Instead, the PAC has thrown in its lot with Meek, already having given him $7,500 — more than any other Senate candidate and as much as it gave Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Albio Sires, D-N.J., the top House recipients.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, the director for US-Cuba Democracy PAC’s Washington operations, stressed that the committee has nothing against Rubio. At a December panel discussion hosted by the committee, Rubio, Crist and Meek all toed the same anti-Castro line, he noted. So then why Meek?
“He’s the only one who’s been in Congress and has a long track record of being an outspoken advocate for human rights and a strong Cuba policy,” Claver-Carone said. “Charlie and Marco are great, and they would be great members of Congress, but they haven’t had that yet. They’ve talked about it and they’ve advocated, but never from a legislative perspective.”
Claver-Carone added that the PAC follows an “incumbency rule” in its giving and considers Meek an incumbent of sorts since he is currently in the House. But the PAC gave $7,000 to former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., in his 2004 campaign to become the first Cuban-American senator, even though Martinez had never served in Congress.
The 25 Cuban-Americans who make up US-Cuba Democracy PAC’s board, which includes some of the biggest rainmakers in South Florida, haven’t rallied behind Rubio either. As of the end of the fourth quarter 2009, its board members had donated $31,200 to Crist, $14,950 to Meek, and $73,800 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but just $8,150 to Rubio.
Indeed, Meek has strong Hispanic support in Florida, even with a Puerto Rican, Maurice Ferre, kind of/sort of in the race (Central Florida is rich with Puerto Rican voters.) And he has had a de facto alliance on Cuba issues with the three South Florida Cuban-American Congresmen, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, with whom Meek and Debbie Wasserman Schultz even maintained a “non-aggression pact” that irked supporters of three Democrats running to fill those seats in 2008. There’s no proof of it, but it wouldn’t be impossible to believe that Mario and Lincoln (who is retiring from Congress) pulled their endorsement of Charlie Crist for Senate in part to avoid breaking their pact by going against Meek.
Meanwhile, Hispanics aren’t the only ones who may be souring on Rubio. While tea partiers have for the most part been sticking their fingers in their ears and ignoring the mushrooming reports of Rubio padding his personal lifestyle with donors’ money, a few conservatives are daring to take a stand on the issue, and not in a good way for Rubio. The first shot may have been fired by J.C. Arenas, who writes in the conservative American Thinker:
Marco Rubio has become the latest politician of whom many have projected their own hopes and dreams for a new type of leadership, but a St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald report released over the weekend establishes a pattern of behavior that demonstrates he just might be more of the same.
He then goes on to detail what we’ve heard about Rubio’s reliance on party credit cards and PAC money to service his debts and even employ family members, and then adds this (with my apologies to Robert Gibbs):
Thus far, Camp Rubio has no legitimate explanation for his past behavior.
Rubio Campaign Adviser Todd Harris has been performing his best imitation of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, claiming that any wrongs committed would be righted-conveniently after they’ve been exposed-and rationalizing his boss’s behavior by proclaiming, “This is not taxpayer money we’re talking about.” He’s right; Rubio didn’t abuse taxpayer money, just GOP money, but that still causes a problem on two fronts: one, election laws call for party credit cards to only be used for expenses towards elections, and two, individuals who donated money to the party didn’t do so Rubio could whip out the party’s credit card whenever he needed to place an order at Chick-Fil-A or pay his mechanic for servicing the family’s van-as documented in a Miami Herald report last month.
Moreover, Rubio wasn’t exactly forthcoming during an interview last week on the Fox News network with Greta Van Susteren. When asked directly if he had ever used a credit card belonging to another person or organization for personal expenses, he stated he had not, then claimed he had, but only for a “few” items and he had paid those expenses back, but then deflected going any further, by saying this isn’t what the election is about.
Rubio’s correct, the Florida Senatorial Election of 2010 is not about his usage of OPM, but the issue here is that he has campaigned on a platform of being a new-breed politician, who’s aligned with the Tea Party Movement, and the best candidate for the job because he’s a Washington outsider. Unfortunately for him, funneling money to himself and relatives via PACs, abusing his access to party credit cards, and engaging in half-truths and double talk when asked to explain his actions, put’s him on par with the politicians we already have in Washington.
Rubio’s behavior is unfortunate-not to mention incredibly amateurish-and comes at an inopportune time. Governor Charlie Crist-who’s done plenty of bumbling and stumbling of his own-has already attached Rubio to Ray Sansom, a former Florida State Speaker of the House, who also abused his GOP credit card and resigned his post earlier this month in the midst of a pending ethics trial.
If more conservatives start talking like that, Marco Rubio has a problem. But Arenas has a special dispensation to criticize Rubio, because he is Hispanic, too. It will be interesting to see if white conservatives dare to be so bold, because as Mr. Arenas also points out:
Rubio’s conduct is el elefante en el cuarto-the elephant in the room-many on the right don’t seem to want to talk about because Rubio is a Latino who is young, experienced, and has the potential to help advance conservatism to a level that would garner him the title “The Republican Obama”. But I imagine that if he were an appointee to the president’s administration, he’d have a hell of a time getting confirmed in the aftermath of these revelations.
Forget getting confirmed. He’d be the star of Glenn Beck’s chalkboard every night. Why he’s not getting attacked, including by the conspicuously white tea party movement, may have to do with the right’s almost desperate need for brown faces to slap onto their brand of “conservatism.” If the tea parties attacked him, or if the white AND geriatric GOP did, it might appear to reinforce an image of the right that they’d rather walk away from, particularly since the party seems to be in a state of constant war with its chairman, and since RedState’s Erick Erickson has pointedly remarked that the party is giving off the impression that it doesn’t want black and brown conservative candidates (Erick failed to point out that one of his black “candidates” would be an appointee who didn’t win his Senate seat on his own merits, something I thought conservatives objected to, and that the other one was pushed out of the U.s. military for being dangerous and crazy, but there you go…) On the other hand, doesn’t the seemingly bottomless toleration for Rubio’s growing list of scandals represent the soft bigotry of low expectations that George W. Bush, who was pretty popular with Hispanic voters for a while, warned us about?