These days, it seems every time either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz—both of them 44-year-old, well-spoken, intelligent, Cuban-American, sons of immigrants, lawyers, and first-term senators elected with support from the Tea Party—opens his mouth, it’s all about stressing the differences between them.
By constantly reminding Republican primary voters that Rubio—as a member of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight”—co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 that included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, Cruz is insisting that he is stronger on border security.
And by pointing out Cruz’s inconsistency and the fact that he once proposed an amendment that would have granted legal status to the undocumented but now claims to oppose that very concept, Rubio is essentially arguing that he is more honest and has more integrity.
But recently, a coalition of liberal Latino groups was doing its best to argue that these two GOP superstars are pretty much the same—and that neither would be good for America. Using everything from radio and online ads to social media posts to meetings and public discussions with community leaders in battleground states like Nevada and Colorado, these activists are insisting that Cruz and Rubio are Donald Trump clones who have betrayed their own people.
These lefties even wheeled out Dolores Huerta, who is often billed as a civil rights icon. Huerta gleefully called Cruz and Rubio “sellouts” and “traitors” and said the Hispanic candidates “are turning their backs on the Latino community.”
That’s rich coming from Huerta, who made her bones as vice president of the United Farm Workers—an organization that was effectively a surrogate for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Every time the union was on strike, and another load of immigrant replacement workers was bussed in, UFW officials would call the INS and demand that agents come to the fields, round up the workers, and deport them.
If that’s not an example of “turning your back” on Latinos, I don’t know what is.
Frankly, I’m not surprised that the Latino Left has the long knives out for Cruz and Rubio. As soon as the two senators clawed their way into the top three, alongside Donald Trump, that was the cue for these left-wing groups to start saying they had put their own interests above the values of other Latinos.
As you can see, I’ve memorized the script. I learned it three decades ago in college, where I spent the first two years attacking fellow Latinos as not being ethnically authentic and the last two getting a taste of my own medicine and being attacked by fellow Latinos for the same infraction.
But this goes beyond Identity Crisis 101. Because we’re talking not about college students but about a pair of elected officials—either of whom stands a good chance of becoming the nation’s first Latino president—the stakes are higher than usual.
And because these elected officials happen to be Republican, electing either of them would likely lure Latino voters to the GOP or at the very least cause many Latinos to begin to wonder why the Democratic Party is more interested in pandering to them than in promoting them.
That would be a most positive trend. Latinos get nowhere politically by being taken for granted by Democrats and written off by Republicans. And Latinos are right to wonder why Democrats are content to elevate, anoint, and elect Latinos as mayors and school board members but usually not governors and senators, as the GOP has done.
Democrats, and the professional Latinos who cover for them, are right to worry about the possibility of Trump collapsing and the Republican nominee being someone with a surname like “Cruz” or “Rubio.”
Hillary Clinton will probably do well with voters across the board in the general election. And yet her support from Latinos is a mile wide but an inch deep. It’s like there is this song playing in the Latino community, and Clinton just can’t hear the beat.
Besides, the presumptive Democratic nominee has a whole binder full of Senate votes and past statements on immigrants and refugees that make her sound like the Goldwater Girl she claims to have been in the 1960s. She has spent so much time and effort in the last few years trying to pander to white voters who are anxious about immigration that it won’t be easy to make a U-turn and start pandering to Latinos.
Of course, when it comes to Latinos, not all is lost for Democrats. They have one card left to play. Clinton could still add a little salsa to the party’s ticket by tapping Julian Castro as her running mate. Once considered an idea that was farfetched, the idea that Clinton might call the Housing Secretary up to the majors becomes much more plausible if either Cruz or Rubio is atop the Republican ticket.
That’s why this moment is so important. What’s happening on the right side of the aisle could have a direct bearing on what happens on the left side. And in that sense, it’s important but, again, not surprising that the major scuffle between Rubio and Cruz would revolve around the immigration issue.
Both candidates have, over the last few years, tried to finesse and nuance their way through this most divisive and combustible subject. Both have flip-flopped from earlier positions, and appeared at times to try to have their cake and eat it too.
Both have tried to appear simultaneously tough and compassionate, and to encourage more legal immigration while attempting to hold the line against illegal immigration. Most of all, both seem conflicted about the issue and caught between their responsibilities as Americans, and a desire to honor the immigrant legacy of their parents; Rubio’s mother and father, Oria and Mario, and Cruz’s father, Rafael, all came from Cuba in the 1950s before Fidel Castro took power.
The liberal Latino activists who carry water for the Democratic Party are wrong that Cruz and Rubio are bad for America, and that neither one of them is worthy of being elected president.
But they’re right about one thing: On immigration, as on many other issues, there is more that unites Cruz and Rubio than divides them. They are more alike than they are different. All the more reason for them to tone down the heated rhetoric, stop the attacks, and bury the hatchet.
There is nothing wrong with providing contrasts in a presidential election. That’s the reason for this season. But Rubio and Cruz have done that. They have their differences, and each is his own man. We get it.
Now it’s time to highlight those areas where they agree, in the hopes of moving forward and providing real leadership on an important but difficult issue that isn’t known for producing it.