Opinion: Rubio misses chance to move to middle

February 15, 2013


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the Republicans’ big Hispanic hope for 2016, is a smart politician who might still make it to his party’s presidential ticket, but he blew it big time during his nationally broadcast State of the Union rebuttal speech on Tuesday.

I’m not talking about the fact that he looked uncharacteristically nervous, rubbing his forehead repeatedly as if he was trying to wipe off sweat or scare away a mosquito. And I’m not talking about the moment where he almost disappeared from the television screen to get a bottle of water — a scene that cartoonists will feast on for quite some time.

I’m talking about the content of his speech. Rubio, who had just appeared on Time magazine’s cover as “The Republican Savior,” missed a huge opportunity to establish himself as a Republican who can reach out to independent voters who, while not happy with President Barack Obama, see the Republicans as a party taken hostage by the extreme right.

Rubio had a great opportunity to shift somewhat to the center on issues such as immigration, women and gun violence, while maintaining his criticism of Obama’s public-spending policies.

But Rubio missed his chance.

On immigration, the 41-year-old Cuban-American senator — one of the Republicans’ few hopes to recover Hispanic votes following the party’s disastrous showing among Latinos in the 2012 elections — didn’t dare to pronounce the “C” word, as in citizenship, when he talked about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Minutes earlier, in his State of the Union address, Obama had proposed passing comprehensive immigration reform with greater border controls and “a responsible pathway to earned citizenship.” That path should include background checks, paying meaningful penalties, learning English, and going to the back of the line of those trying to get into the country legally, Obama said.

But in his Republican rebuttal address, Rubio seemed to offer an eventual permanent-residency status without a path to citizenship.

“We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally,” Rubio said. “But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”

The problem with not offering an earned pathway to citizenship is that it would, among other things, kick the problem down the road, creating a huge underclass of people who, 10 years from now, would be taking to the streets to demand their full rights.

France and other countries that gave undocumented immigrants permanent residency without citizenship have created a huge underclass of foreigners who have not blended into society, increasing social tensions and leading to periodic, often bloody, street riots in immigrant neighborhoods.

On gun violence, Rubio didn’t propose any measures to reduce the recent wave of mass killings, even after the latest massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.

In his speech, Obama called for a congressional vote on background checks to make it harder for criminals to buy weapons, as well as measures to keep military weapons off the streets.

Rubio’s response was: “We must effectively deal with the rise in violence in this country, but unconstitutionally undermining the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is not the way to do it.”

On women’s issues and gay and lesbian rights, Obama called on House Republicans to pass an act to combat violence against women, an equal-pay-for-women law, and other measures to ensure equal treatment for all military personnel, including gay soldiers. Rubio did not directly address any of these issues.

My opinion: Rubio may recover from his “water-bottle gate,” because I found in my own experience interviewing him that he’s an intelligent, good-natured politician who will surely put this awkward moment behind him with a mix of self-depreciating humor and smart policy proposals.

But I’m not so sure he will be the “savior” who can reconnect the Republican Party with Hispanics, women, and other sectors of society unless he distances himself from his party’s right-wing extremists on immigration, gun violence, women, and other social issues, while continuing to stick to the Republicans’ small-government philosophy. Rubio’s problem wasn’t the water. It was the message!

— Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald.


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 1 month ago

When are Republicans going to run someone with some substance?

Politics in this country is just becoming awful. This kid can never match the hype and he should get a real job and test his skills in the workplace like the rest of us.

Maybe in 10 years after he has shown something he can run again and tell us how smart he is.


Katara 1 year, 1 month ago

It is interesting how much the faux conservatives on here use the word "fear".


ThePilgrim 1 year, 1 month ago

Citizenship for illegals is a nonstarter for both parties - including Obama's proposal. Why go to the back of the line? Most of Western Kansas is supported almost completely by the influx of Hispanics. They overwhelmingly have "good enough" fake or (ID theft) stolen documentation to be able to get jobs and driver licenses. They pay taxes, and pay Social Security taxes (all on someone else's SSN). Most of the meat packing plants in Garden City and Dodge City have multiple employees with the same SSN. Why become legitimatized and become a second class citizen? They are first class citizens now. It is very unlikely that they would go to the back of the line.


UltimateGrownup 1 year, 2 months ago

Drudge yesterday featured a photo of Obama and Hillary publicly drinking water. Why are we not calling for them to also be excluded from public life? The media is preprogrammed to do hit jobs -- no matter how bizarre or false -- on the next Republican nominee. In Feb. 2011, a crazed gunman shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and several others at a Safeway in Tucson. The media blamed Gov. Sarah Palin for the incident, as she was the presumptive 2012 Republican nomimee. Why would anyone on this planet assign more credibility to Andres Oppenheimer and the media in general than we do to the Heaven's Gate cult or the Raelian cult? BTW, the Raelians cloned the first human ever, assuming you believe the media.


WristTwister 1 year, 2 months ago

Rubio did indeed appear to be nervous. However, his message was spot on. Water-gate will soon be forgotten as this very talented rising star makes future speaking appearances and becomes more familiar to the electorate. The left fears Rubio and are using this particular appearance to marginalize him in the eyes of low information voters who are easily swayed by the propaganda of the left. This tactic worked with Romney and the other Republican also rans...why would we expect anything different for future Republican candidates. Expect the left to use this tactic early and often for anyone they think has potential (i.e. recent comments made about Chris Chritie's weight).

Actually, Rubio's Water-gate pales in comparison to many of Obama's snafus. Who can forget that Obama thinks there are "57 states" or his mispronunciation of corpsman among many others. Of course the Liberal biased media chooses to ignore these blunders and focus more on the nervous demeanor of Rubio. Whodda' thunk it?


rtwngr 1 year, 2 months ago

Oppenheimer's argument is undermined by the fact that independents broke for Romney and the Republican Party in the last election. The MAM (Mooching American Minority) happened to be larger than the voters for Romney. Lots of conservatives stayed home because Romney was too liberal.

Note to Oppenheimer: Rubio doesn't want to be a Democrat.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 2 months ago

But he did move to the side to get a swig of water to stave off his flop sweat.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 2 months ago

"But I’m not so sure he will be the “savior” who can reconnect the Republican Party with Hispanics, women, and other sectors of society unless he distances himself from his party’s right-wing extremists on immigration, gun violence, women, and other social issues, while continuing to stick to the Republicans’ small-government philosophy."

Problem is, he got elected by pandering to the small-minded, astroturf populism of the Tea Party,


Paul R Getto 1 year, 2 months ago

Good points, but he has lots of time to regain his "Golden Boy" status. I agree it was too bad he did not say much.


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