Every single time a Republican primary rolls around, it’s the real test. Remember Iowa? It was going to separate the wheat from the chaff. But all it really did was get rid of Michelle Bachmann (not a small thing, but no one believes that was all the chaff).
Then came New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney — under the illusion he’d won Iowa — was going to make it two in a row, score a historic precedent, and prance to the nomination. New Hampshire was a test of money — who had it, who didn’t. And all it really proved was that Jon Huntsman couldn’t get his dad to give him more of his millions to prop up his campaign (a campaign that was never, not once, about 2012).
Then there was South Carolina, where the strong, evangelical Republican base was going to take every sinner to church. And what that proved was that Newt Gingrich may be a Catholic convert, but he’s probably got a really powerful babalao in Miami. Only black magic can explain Gingrich’s continued dark rising. (A little racist coding didn’t hurt either.)
And now there’s Florida, where the GOP presidential candidates are supposedly battling for the Latino vote and co-front runners Gingrich and Romney have hired former aides of Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio to help with their campaigns.
Let us be clear: GOP wannabes are not really fighting for the Latino vote in Florida. They’re all trying to get the Cuban vote, which is a whole other kind of empanada. In other words, Florida is suis generis, the lessons here useless in every other state and — you all can buy me drinks later — the GOP is going to lose Florida in the general election anyway.
I know, you’re saying, Achita, you’ve gone loca.
But hear me out. Or more precisely, take a second listen to Romney and Gingrich at Monday night’s debate, in which they tried to out-metaphorically-kill Fidel Castro. Ask yourself: Who — besides hardline Cubans — gives a mambo about whether Fidel lands before his maker or in hell?
Moreover, neither Romney nor Gingrich answered the question before them: What would they do if Fidel Castro died and thousands of Cubans began swarming toward Florida? The second half of that question is of actual concern to Floridians, who had their cities and budgets overwhelmed in 1980 and 1994 by thousands of unexpected Cuban refugees arriving en masse.
But why should Republicans answer, really, when they know the hardcore Cuban vote will be satisfied with lots of red meat anti-Castro talk — as they were with Reagan and both Bushes and every losing GOP nominee they gave their vote to — and that action is unnecessary? So Gingrich blathered about standing with the dissidents while Romney talked about engaging with a post-Fidel government. (It might be nice if one of Rubio’s guys on Romney’s team would tell him that, er, there is, right now, a post -Fidel government in Cuba.)
None of this is going to help Romney or Gingrich with the two big Latino voting blocks: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, who make up the vast majority of the Latino vote across the country. That both GOP candidates support the Dream Act only for its military provision isn’t going to get them a big round of applause when the sitting president and a majority of Democrats support the provision in its totality.
The Republicans might be stupid enough to put Rubio on the ticket with the hope of swinging, maybe, just Florida, but there’s already plenty of data that says Rubio brings nada to the national ticket.
There are the two big reasons why the Florida GOP primary is an exercise is meaningless (and it’s not just because Barack Obama won in 2008 with 54 percent of the Latino vote here), and they amount to this: The state is already in the Democratic column.
1) Rubio and the GOP roster have already alienated Univision, the largest Spanish-language network in the U.S., over a skirmish about a story on his brother-in-law, a former drug trafficker who was implicated in the murder and dismemberment of a federal officer (Rubio apparently continues to surround himself with shady characters). Rubio personally asked the GOP presidential aspirants not to participate in a debate on Univision, which infuriated the network. As a compromise of sorts, they’re doing a series of one-ones with Jorge Ramos, the channel’s signature anchor, before the elections. Now, does anyone think Univision is going to forget this in the general election?
2) The all-mighty Cuban-American vote is no longer king in Florida. Here’s why, from a story about population growth in the state: “There was little surprise when Census numbers came out earlier this year that Latinos had comprised most of the Florida’s explosive growth — about 54.7 percent of the state’s 2.8 million new residents were Hispanic. But the numbers also contained a subtle shift in the Latino population. In 2000, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans accounted for a total of about 5.3 percent of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, putting them on equal footing with Cubans, who made up 5.2 percent of the people in Florida. A decade later, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans are 7.8 percent of the state’s residents, eclipsing the 6.4 percent that Cubans account for. And many of those new residents — more than 365,000 of them — are Puerto Ricans.”
In other words, the majority of Latinos in Florida now aren’t Cuban. Most of the new residents are Puerto Rican. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens at birth. And Puerto Ricans historically vote Democratic.
Now remember that Rubio will be escorting whomever is the GOP nominee around in Florida in the generals, whether as VP or otherwise. Think about that and consider Rubio’s opposition to Sonia Sotomayor, the pride of Puerto Rico, for the Supreme Court.