Rubio Wins a Participation Trophy in Puerto Rico
Policy + Politics

Rubio Wins a Participation Trophy in Puerto Rico

© CHRIS KEANE / Reuters

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio notched his second win of the Republican presidential primary on Sunday with a dominant performance in Puerto Rico, where he took upwards of 70 percent of the vote to trip a winner-take-all rule that delivered him all 23 of the US territory’s delegates to the Republican nominating convention.

The victory was a nice ending to an otherwise brutal weekend for Rubio. In the so-called “Super Saturday” slate of primaries and caucuses, he failed to finish better than third in any of the states that awarded delegates.

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But other than generating a feel-good moment for his struggling campaign, it’s hard to see just how much Rubio’s presidential ambitions are really bolstered by his performance on the Caribbean island.

In fact, Rubio’s victory in Puerto Rico has the whiff of a participation trophy. Until his win there yesterday, the only “W” in Rubio’s column was, however improbably, Minnesota. 

This is not to denigrate the delegates from the territory. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and the delegates they select count in the GOP primary as much as delegates from any state. It is just to note that the demographics in Puerto Rico aren’t even close to being representative of any U.S. state.

And the preferences of the relatively small percentage of Republicans in Puerto Rico, while they may reflect the feelings of mainland Republicans with a similar background, probably aren’t indicative of a GOP landslide toward Rubio … pretty much anywhere, other than a few Congressional districts in Florida.

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Even the Florida electorate, while it has a large and growing percentage of Puerto Ricans who have fled the economic troubles at home, isn’t anything like Puerto Rico taken as a whole.

In addition, in Puerto Rico, Rubio was running against a Republican frontrunner who has, seemingly, done everything he possibly could to alienate Hispanic voters by railing against Hispanic immigrants. And the party’s number two candidate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, has been so rabidly anti-immigrant in his campaign that he is seen among many immigrant activist groups as something close to a traitor.

Again, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth, but not all of them who come to the U.S. necessarily feel that they are embraced as such, and listening to a major party candidate who suggests immigrants are all rapists and drug dealers probably generates a bit of a negative vibe toward Trump.

Rubio, despite some desperate backtracking in the past year, was actually one of the authors of a major bipartisan immigration compromise that passed the Senate in 2015 but failed in the House. In a Republican primary in Puerto Rico, that may be the thin reed that GOP-leaning voters need to latch on to.

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Donald Trump, after he won Kentucky and Louisiana on Saturday night, called on Rubio to leave the race. The suggestion was happily echoed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won Kansas and Maine Saturday night and came away from the evening with more delegates than Trump, though he still trails in total delegates.

The results in Puerto Rico may indicate some sort of movement in Rubio’s direction, but it seems pretty likely that the electoral equivalent of just showing up was all he needed to win there, and that the result won’t translate into future wins.