Could Marco Rubio hurt the GOP in 2012?

Oct 27, 2011

Republicans who are eager to repair the party's battered image among Hispanic voters and unseat President Obama next year have long promoted a single-barrel solution to their two-pronged problem: putting Sen. Marco Rubio on the national ticket.

But Rubio's role in recent controversies, including a dispute with the country's biggest Spanish-language television network and new revelations that he had mischaracterized his family's immigrant story, shows that any GOP bet on his national appeal could be risky.

The Post's White House correspondent Peter Wallsten discussed what effect Rubio could have on the GOP if chosen as the Republican's 2012 Vice Presidential candidate.

Read: Marco Rubio on national ticket could be risky bet for Republican Party

Hi everyone. This is Peter here, ready for your questions. Fire away......

Isn't it true that just about ANY potential VP candidate is "risky" unless he's been around forever (a la Cheney, Biden)? For example, Lieberman was risky (hawkish views on nat security), but that ticket won more votes than Bush-Cheney.

Yes. Recall also that Sarah Palin struck many people at first as a brilliant pick -- she enthused the base and seemed to have a reformist record. Then came the scrutiny. Interesting that WSJ editorial page editor Paul Gigot suggested that it might bode well for Rubio that the scrutiny is coming now and not after he's selected for Veep.

Does Wapo have a Spanish speaking reporter in South Florida interviewing the Cuban Community? Where this story goes and how it impacts Rubio's future career depends upon how it's perceived by Cuban exiles.

I can't speak to our reporting plans. You're right that the views of the exile community will have a big impact on Rubio's career and this story. But if he's a national contender in the future, the views of others outside of South Fla will matter a lot more. If non-Cuban Hispanics start to see him as someone who perceives the exile story to be more powerful or meaningful than the more common economic immigrant story, that could well rub Mexican-Americans the wrong way. Their friends and relatives, like Rubio's parents, came here to make a better life for themselves and their families. And the majority of Hispanic voters in the US -- particularly in battlegrounds of  CO, NV and NM -- are Mexican-American.

He seems to open the GOP ticket up to many of the same attacks that Obama's been taking. He's the son of immigrants (who didn't even want to live here until Castro called their bluff), he's young and relatively inexperienced, he's not white, etc. And I've lived in Miami and was there during the Elian Gonzalez thing, and I can tell you that the Cuban-American community has a special talent at alienating everyone around them. Alot of people resent their privileged legal staus, for example. VPs should be stable, reassuring presences, not lightning rods.

It's an interesting observation. Of course, Obama did win the presidency. Millions of African-Americans, despite first wondering if he had a chance to win or if they should back him, grew passionately protective of him. The question for Rubio is if he can bridge those tensions between Cuban-Americans and, say, Mexican-Americans.

I don't believe Rubio will help GOP with Hispanic voters, except with Cuban-Americans who already tend to support the GOP. Puertoricans will remeber he voted against Sonia Sotomayor. Mexican Americans generally will see Rubio as anti-immigration as will other Hispanics. What were the results of the investigation into Rubio's illegal credit card use?

Rubio is young, talented and charismatic. All of these issues show that he will have questions to answer if he decides to step onto the national stage.

It seems to me that the GOP has as much interest and respect for the Hispanic citizens as it has for African-Americans. They push policies and espouse hate speech that is counter to the interests and pride of both groups yet wonder why they can't secure the votes. I don't really understand this disconnect. Do you feel the Republicans are just trying to pull the wool over on the voters or are they just self deluded?

There are many Republicans who are working to attract more minorities to the party, and many of them espouse a wide variety of opinions on policy. George W. Bush supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants; Jeb Bush supported the DREAM Act.

Many Cuban residents in USA in the 1956-1961 time frame were pro-Castro and even travelled back to Cuban as "Repatriates", believing at that time in Fidel Castro promises. Many returned to the USA disillusioned. Could Rubio be trying to hide the fact that maybe, during those years, his parents were"Fidelistas"?

I have no way of knowing. Interesting, though, that the St. Pete Times yesterday reported that the parents wrote on official US documents that they intended to remain permanently.

Have you noticed how Rubio has trouble even to explain to the Cuban American community his vote against Obama's flexibility about family travel to Cuba?

I haven't looked into that, but one fascinating element here is that the exile community's views of Cuba, and US ties to Cuba, are complicated and evolving.

By "new revelations" you mean a massively overblown story that other traditional journalists -- i.e. Miami Herald -- have said was unfair? That the Post rushed online before it had finished interviewing Rubio? Aren't you just a LITTLE embarrassed to include the line about the alleged mischaracterization in your story?

Thanks for your questions. No, no and no.

In a way, isn't it sort of lucky for Republicans that these negative factors about Marco Rubio came out now? Does this give Republicans time to consider whether these or fatal mistakes or whether these mistakes can be overcome?

That's what the WSJ's Paul Gigot wrote in a column yesterday. This also gives the party the chance to see how Rubio handles a challenge.

I can appreciate the Post researching Rubio's family history, and scouring the immigration records to verify that Rubio's parents had immigrated legally. What I can't appreciate, however, is insisting that Rubio "embellished" his story, which implies intent. Since the Post can't really know anyone's intent, why not give Rubio the benefit of the doubt and report the story objectively? Wouldn't it have been more objective to include in the same article Rubio's perspective? Also, why report essentially the same story AGAIN several days later? Was there some new information here?

My colleague Manuel Roig-Franzia researched and wrote an important and fair story last week. It was an example of the kind of real reporting that newspapers do best. Today's piece was a follow-up, looking at the political consequences for Rubio and the GOP. They were different stories.

Rubio told an audience at the Atlantic Ideas Forum earlier this month that not only will he not be asked to be on anybody's ticket, but that he would reject such a request. His disinterest barely gets a mention in the next to last paragraph of your story. This seems like a major element in the equation. Why didn't it play more prominently in your story?

I could have put it higher. But it's important to remember that very few politicians admit to being interested in being picked until they've been picked. Who wants to be the one to acknowledge interest and then be passed over? That said, some think Rubio is better off skipping the veepstakes and being a party powerbroker until it's his turn to run for the top spot.

The dispute with univsion is so far off the radar of most Americans that I dont see how that could resonate with most voters in general election. Rubio would have to appeal to all voters, not just Hispanics-- just like Palin was to appeal to all voters, and not just women.

Don't underestimate the power of Univision. It's got a huge audience, and beats most English-language stations in a number of major cities. As the Hispanic electorate grows, Univision grows in influence. And I bet Univision viewers will become aware of the controversy. You're right, though, that he also needs to extend his reach beyond Hispanics. But he's in good shape in that department. If the 2010 exit polls are any indication, Rubio would do great with many conservatives and independents of all ethnicities.

Univision, as one of the largest TV stations in the USA, all Latino, all the time, nationwide, was Rubio's ticket to advance beyond the US Senate and a huge advantage for the GOP to lure Latinos. Why would Rubio refuse an interview on Univision's show Al Punto? Rubio claims Univision resorted to blackmail in an effort to get him on the air (July 211.) Eventually this turned into a GOP boycott of Univision (Oct 5, 211) isn't this like Rubio shooting himself and his party in the foot?

Univision's Jorge Ramos is extremely influential among Latinos in the US. It's surprising that Republicans would want to go to battle with him. But Ramos, unlike some of his English-language counterparts on other networks, has expressed strong views on immigration policy. He has been critical of Republicans, but he has also been very hard on the Obama administration.

The fact that Rubio's parents could have been Fidelista or repatriates could KILL his support from the Miami Exile Community

The exile community has expressed strong support for Rubio, and there is no indication of a change there. Many in that community have said in recent days that he is indeed the "son of exiles," no matter what year his parents came.

Another issue with Rubio is the Taj Mahal courthouse in Tallahassee, and Rubio is a "hero" of it. This is a gold-plated, spare-no-expense project for a new courthouse for Florida's Fist District Court of Appeals. At the same time the courts were laying off workers and postponing repairs because of Florida's budget crisis, the Legislature--when Rubio was Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives--rammed through funding for it. Other judges in the state branded it the "Taj Mahal" courthouse. It was to have 60-inch plasma TVs in each judge's chambers, as well as separate kitchens for each judge, to name just a few of its excesses. It was extremely controversial here in Florida. The two judges who worked the legislature to fund the project were both former legislative aides. They did so beautifully, including going around committee heads. Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, then chairman of the House committee overseing court expenditures, said that Speaker Marco Rubio helped the judges go behind his back. See this. An email from the judges complimenting themselves for securing this funding called Rubio one of the "heros" of the project. See this.

I believe that my former boss Lucy Morgan did a lot of the digging on those stories. Again, if Rubio steps onto the national stage, the strutiny will be intense -- not just on his family history but his work as a state lawmaker and as speaker of the state House of Reps.

I read online from commentary magazine that Univision dug a 25 year old story about Rubio's brother-in-law. then said they would not run the story if he (Rubio) appeared on their broadcast. If those facts are correct I hardly see rubio being damaged by univision.

The Miami Herald first reported those allegations, citing unnamed Univision staffers and Rubio's office as sources. Univision vehemently denies the charge.

OK everyone, thanks so much for your questions. That's it for the live chat. Feel free to email me at if you have additional comments or questions.

In This Chat
Peter Wallsten
Peter Wallsten is a White House correspondent for the Post. He came to the paper last year following stints covering national politics and the White House for the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He also covered Florida politics and state government for the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and a Chapel Hill, N.C., native.

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