Why Marco Rubio wasn’t good enough for “Latinos,” and why GOP will miss Govs. Martinez and Sandoval

by Alex Gonzalez

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval are two Mexican-American Republican politicians that will retire at the end of this year, and their center-right pragmatism  will be greatly missed in the Trump era and politics of resentment.

All political identities are created by the by cultural elites. Therefore, it is the responsibility of elites and political leaders to instill you with a romanticized myth-identity that strengthens your cultural psychological being. In this way you consider yourself as part of the myth, or the state. And political parties operate the same way.

For a long time, the Republican National  Committee (RNC) and the GOP party honchos in the Southwest wanted to carry Rubio as “Hispanic/Latino” that would appeal to millions of Mexican-Americans in their homeland, the Southwest. And this manufactured RNC “Latino” image was pushed during the presidential election of 2016, but it was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in the Southwest, in both, Mexican-Americans and “whites.” At the same time, Governors Martinez and  Brian Sandoval kept a low profile while straying away from the national party and the politics of Trump.

But even after Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval leave, the party apparatus can always count and the few Mexican-Americans from Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California that for a longtime have patiently waited for the shrinkage of the “old white” party base so they can finally ascend to leadership roles and give the party a ‘face lift” with faces that look more like the futures of the Southwest.

Nevertheless, it is important for all Latinos – especially Mexican-Americans –  to recognize the party of Donald Trump,  or Ted Cruz who is now courting Trump to help with his re-election campaign in Texas,  will never share the values or Reagan or George W. bush, values that made the party attractive to Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. Thus, any new “conservative”party the emerges after Trump ought to recognize that  Latinos – Mexican-Americans – are the future of the party and that there are cultural cleavages that must be acknowledged, and respected, the same way that the “old system” respected the state of Israel to woo Jews and the Scot-Irish culture in the South among white voters.

Moreover, regardless of what the “old” establishment party claims – the Republican National Committee (RNC) and states’ parties – Latinos are not warming up to Ted Cruz, even though Cruz is Cuban (Latino). In 2016, the results from Florida, Nevada, Arizona show that Latino voters have a very low favorability for Ted Cruz; and in California, polls showed both Trump and Cruz will drive the party to a new low among Latino voters. So Ted Cruz was never the token image of  Latino “inclusiveness” that the old party system was looking for.

Clearly, the fact that the base rejected Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, even after Party elites – the “establishment” – wanted Rubio as a symbol of “inclusiveness” to lure Latino voters. But Marco Rubio, who is Cubans, never really appealed to the millions on Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. So not only Rubio failed to appeal to an older white  Republican base that picked Trump, he also failed to appeal to Latinos in the Southwest. The party bosses at the RNC wanted Rubio to be what he is not – a Latino from the Southwest; so they can’t manufacture a token  image to win over Latinos with a Cuban in the Southwest that is predominantly Mexican-Americans, as Gregory Rodriguez noted:

One sure sign of the need for a reality check in the immigration debate is the number of politicians and policies claiming to serve the interests of a national “Latino community.” That “community” — as a single entity — is a myth. All 55 million Latinos can’t be reduced to a single-issue interest group. Such reductionism allows Washington to hijack “Latinos” for its own purposes. It allows the media to entertain the absurd notion that throngs of mestizo Mexican Americans from California will one day help carry a white Cuban U.S. senator from Florida to the White House because they’re all Latino. It enables the Republican Party to think that supporting immigration reform is enough of a solution to having become a de facto white race party. 

As a result, the party technocrats wanted to give us, Mexican-Americans,  a white Cuban from Florida as token for Latino Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, and a young image of Latino that does not look too brown so the older white base will not be too afraid; but both the older white base and Latinos did not embrace this false manufactured “inclusiveness” image. The party manufactured a “Latino” images that was to be sold to the millions of Mexican-Americans Latinos in the southwest. But that plan has failed, and Trump and Ted Cruz opted to capitalize on fear and anti-immigrant anti-Mexican feeling within the party, a 180 degree turn from George W. Bush message to Mexican immigrants and native Mexican-Americans in the southwest.

The party bosses within the GOP still do not want Mexican-Americans talking about their cultural experience and like to pretend we have always been treated as “equal” so they create this superficial “Hispanic” label to de-emphasize our history, and instead appealing our heritage and history, they bring “Hispanics” from other states like Florida to show that party is inclusive with all “Hispanics”, including Mexicans.

However, the party has allowed Rubio to use his Cuban immigrant ethnic identity to be used a source of strength and pride, but has not allowed the few GOP Mexican-Americans, those party activists with token tittles, to talk about their identity because that is still a liability in the Trump party, and instead they opt for a more subtle Hispanic label. So there is double standards within the party for few “privileged” Hispanic Cubans who were groomed by the Party to represent all “Hispanics” and for Mexican-Americans who still cannot embrace their identity because they party  keeps avoiding this contentious racial/ethnic issue about Mexican-Americans and Immigration.

As a result, it could be argued that the party has hijacked the “Hispanic” label and has this idea that Marco Rubio, naturally, was going to appeal to the millions of Mexican-Americans failed, even if the party anoints the immigration issue.

That idea could have only worked if Rubio himself embraces the culture and issue important to Mexican-Americans, beyond immigration.

Mexican-American Republicans against the Party Machine

Because of the national party (RNC) adopted a harsh Trump anti- Mexico, anti-immigration reform and “repealing” Obamacare, Mexican-American Republican governord Susana Martinez and Brain Sandoval, who govern states with large Latino populations, ran their states in very different way from the presidential campaign messages of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Both Martinez and Sandoval governed with pragmatic policies while Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz  vered to the far-right political rhetoric, including  ending  DACA, issue that most “white” Republicans in the Southwest think is a good policy.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz made defeating Obamacare, ending DACA, and “oppose amnesty” a big part of their presidential campaign because that was popular among tea partiers and “old white voters” who makes the base of the Republican base, especially in the primary. And the RNC, for the most part, did the same and rallies in favor of the “wall,” and ending DACA to keep the base  “enthusiasm” high in hopes of high turnout for the mi-term.

Conversely, Mexican-American Republican governors Susana Martinez (NM-R) and Brian Sandoval (NV-R) have done the opposite than Rubio, Cruz and RNC in states with large Mexican-American population,  or Latino voters. Keep in mind that both Brain Sandoval and Susana Martinez did not join the lawsuit against President Obama’s executive action know as DAPA and both signed a bill to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented workers in their respective states.

It is important to note  that, though Gov. Martinez has been critical of “licenses bill” for undocumented workers that did not comply with Real ID federal legislation since she was elected, she actually agreed to a new two-tiered “license bill” that will comply with Real ID by 2020 while keeping driving licenses/permits for those who cannot submit social security numbers, they can submit fingerprints. The legislation creates a two-tier system in which citizens and legal residents may obtain Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses. A driver’s authorization card, which would not be accepted as valid federal identification, would be available to undocumented immigrants or any other qualified driver. in 2014, Gov. Martinez was re-elected with 60%  support from the voters.

The California-born Sandoval is a likable centrist politician of Mexican descent whose political career has been defined by a measure of ideological flexibility. In addition to supporting abortion rights and a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, he signed a bill grating drivers’ licenses to undocumented residents,  in 2015, he enacted in 2015 the largest tax hike in Nevada history as part of his K-12 education reform initiative. In a blow to national Republicans, Sandoval also embraced the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion in 2012. He has said he considers same-sex marriage to be a settled issue.

As governors, both Sandoval and Martinez signed up for Obamacare and have made education and economy development part of their main governing coalition. Both Sandoval and Martinez were re-elected with over 60% of the vote in 2014, including support from Latino voters. However, to the national RNC and Trump message on Immigration  and replanting Obamacare, both Martinez and Sandoval became the “party-poppers” because they actually wanted to seek compromises to serve the labor needs of their states. and Hispanic communities at the state level, and reject any harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric popular with Tea Party groups and supporters of Trump and Ted Cruz – and  in fact, by running against the platform of the national party machine of the RNC, both Martinez and Sandoval have become very popular.

Thus, while Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both Cubans, embraced the national party platform of ending DACA, and “anti-Amnesty,” Martinez and Sandoval who are Mexican-Americans from the southwest, stayed away from the party platform and in fact moved on the opposite direction to make life easier for Hispanic immigrants and workers with no legal status.

Similarly, Mexican-Americans democrat legislators, too, in California have passed legislations at the state level to address what Congress has failed to do – pass a series of laws to make Latino immigrants feel more welcome, just like Nevada and New Mexico have done. As a result, for both Martinez and Sandoval, pragmatism is about economics, the people of your and community, not party.  And this is why the pragmatism of Brian Sandoval and Susana Martinez will be greatly missed in Republican circles in the Trump era.


Alex Gonzalez is a political Analyst, Founder of Latino Public Policy Foundation (LPPF), and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote. Comments to vote@latinosreadytovote.com or @AlexGonzTXCA


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