Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was at it again on Thursday, burnishing his foreign policy credentials with a major speech in New York and further fueling speculations he might end up as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate – while insisting again he was not auditioning for the part.
In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, the freshman senator called for more U.S. action in Syria, which he said had crossed “a tipping point” after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces massacred more than 100 villagers, nearly half of them children. Rubio also said he was prepared for U.S. military action in Iran if necessary because he didn’t expect negotiations or sanctions to stop the Tehran regime from pursuing development of a nuclear weapon.
“I don’t want to come across as some sort of saber-rattling person, because I’m not,” Rubio said. “But I am aligning with what the administration has said, which is ultimately military action may be necessary if everything else fails. . . Sadly, I believe everything else probably will fail.”
YOUNG MAN IN A HURRY
A first-term Republican senator and a darling of both the Florida Cuban American community and the Tea Party, Rubio bumped off former governor Charlie Crist in 2010 to win an open Senate seat. The 41-year-old lawyer insists he’s not interested in the number two spot on the GOP ticket. But that’s hard for some to fathom, given Rubio’s high-profile public appearances and tough rhetoric about Obama. Rubio has called the president the most “divisive figure in modern American history.”
Some of those promoting Rubio for the GOP ticket view him as an ideal match for Romney, 65, the former Bain Capital chief executive and Massachusetts governor. For one thing, the highly articulate Rubio would give Romney’s stodgy campaign a jolt of youthful vitality. And after a tough GOP primary season in which Romney was repeatedly bashed by former senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rubio would serve as an emissary to the party’s far right, which remains suspicious of Romney’s conservative principles.
As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, Rubio could also help fill in some of the gaps in Romney’s knowledge of foreign policy. During his speech in New York, the Florida Republican offered a vigorous defense of U.S. foreign aid, a frequent target of conservatives. He warned that “getting rid of it doesn’t solve anything but it creates a host of problems.”
Perhaps most important, by choosing Rubio – the first Cuban-American to become speaker of the Florida House – Romney could reach out to Latino voters who will be vital to Romney’s chances of beating Obama. Romney alienated many Latinos during the GOP primaries by taking a tough stand against immigration reform, including passage of t DREAM Act that would provide legal status to the children of undocumented aliens.
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“Rubio is very well respected within the [Tea Party] movement, both in Florida and nationally. He seems to be the real deal,” said Mark Meckler, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, the biggest Tea Party group in the country. “He doesn’t seem to pander to anyone. His positions appear to be principled and consistent.”
“You know, I've personally said I love Marco Rubio,” Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a Republican presidential candidate in 2008, said of his former Florida campaign chairman. "I was the first person to endorse him when he ran for the Senate, when everybody thought there was no way he was going to beat Charlie Crist. I think he has many skills and abilities.”
But Romney’s choice of Rubio over other suitors – including GOP governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin andSen. Rob Portman of Ohio – is far from a slam dunk. For one thing, there have been allegations of fund-raising irregularities in his 2010 Senate race. And according to some experts, Rubio’s appeal to Latinos is largely limited to Florida’s huge Cuban-American, anti-Castro community.
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Latinos, the largest minority group in the U.S., are one of the fastest growing segments of the population. In 2004, President George W. Bush won close to 40 percent of the Latino vote, a high-water mark for the GOP. Since then, GOP support among Latinos has steadily declined. Many Latinos have been turned off by conservatives’ efforts to slash government social programs and enact oppressive anti-illegal immigratioin laws in Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina and elsewhere.
An NBC News/Telemundo/Wall Street Journal poll released this week showed that Latino voters preferred Obama over Romney by an overwhelming 34 percentage points.
“Romney certainly needs to do something to turn his chances around,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions. “That means it’s even more important this year for Republicans to hit that 40-percent level if they want to stay competitive in a lot of states.”
Barreto told The Fiscal Times there is little doubt Rubio could help Romney carry Florida this fall with his strong appeal among Cuban Americans. But Rubio has little following in key southwestern states with large populations of Hispanics from Mexico and Central America. Cubans and their descendants make up just 4.5 percent of eligible Hispanic voters, according to recent Census data.
“Rubio is not going to be able to resonate with the primarily immigrant Mexican-American population in Nevada, or the extremely diverse and liberal or Democratic-leaning population in Virginia,” Barreto said.
Rubio yesterday voiced confidence that Romney’s standing with Hispanics would rise, predicting his poor polling among Latinos is “going to change.” “It will get higher as people learn the differences between President Obama and Gov. Romney on the economy,” he told Fox News. “The number-one issue in the Hispanic community is the economy, and in particular, economic empowerment — the ability to work hard and leave your kids better off than yourself. And our argument is a strong one: We are supporters of the American free enterprise system, which makes it easier for people to do that.”
Late last year, the Washington Post reported that Rubio had for years told a compelling – but highly misleading – story about how his parents had fled Cuba for the U.S. in early 1959 after Fidel Castro overthrew the government. Rubio told that story over and over during his rise to political prominence in South Florida, where anti-Castro feelings run high.
But Rubio subsequently confirmed his parents came to the U.S. and were admitted for permanent residence more than two and a half years before Castro came to power. Rubio said the Post story missed the point: “The essence of my family story is why they came to America in the first place; and why they had to stay” after Castro came to power.
ASSET OR LIABILITY?
Alberto Gonzales, the former George W. Bush administration attorney general, told The Fiscal Times on Thursday that he questions whether Rubio would be prepared on the first day of a Romney administration to take charge if something happened to the president, or whether Rubio would be in a position to help Romney govern.
“Rubio, whose service I respect, has relatively little to no executive branch experience,” said Gonzales, now with a Nashville law firm. “It’s one thing to work in the legislature, where you’ve got to compromise, where legislation may take weeks, months, years. It’s quite different in the Oval Office, which requires decisions one right after the other. I have a bias toward executive branch experience and executive leadership experience.”
Rubio has said he’s not interested in running for vice president “right now or maybe ever.” Yet over the past two months, he’s spoken out repeatedly on his vision for U.S. foreign policy, traveled to Guantanamo Bay, and begun work on a GOP alternative to the DREAM Act.
And just in time to capitalize on his leap onto the national stage, Rubio will be the subject of not one but two books, both due out June 19. One, The Rise of Marco Rubio, is by Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia and traces the senator’s ascent from the “caustic political landscape of South Florida to national prominence.”In a galley copy obtained by The Fiscal Times, Roig-Franzia identifies what he calls the “Rubio paradox.” When it comes to his ability to “make Latinos happy … is he one of them or not one of them? A child of exiles or of immigrants? Or both? An answer to Republican hopes to attract Latino votes, or a liability?”
The other book out in mid-June is Rubio’s autobiography, An American Son, which Rubio will be pushing on a combination book tour-campaign swing through Florida, as well as through North Carolina and Virginia, critical battlegrounds in this fall’s election. The book will apparently reveal Rubio’s father’s role in trying to overthrow Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo as well as Rubio’s Mormon years.