Politics & Media
Oct 28, 2015, 07:01AM

Marco Rubio and Racism

Why isn't the GOP establishment rallying around?

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Most pundits and commenters have figured out that Marco Rubio is the most logical Republican nominee at this point. Donald Trump and Ben Carson will never get establishment Republican support; they have no experience and are both horrible general election candidates. Scott Walker dropped out. Jeb Bush is staggering from gaffe to gaffe while his donors prepare to abandon ship. Who's left? Kasich? Jindal? Come on.

There's only one problem. As Ross Douthat points out, despite being the logical selection, Rubio has lagged in endorsements and money—two ways that the party establishment traditionally signals its enthusiasm. Good debate performances have got him favorable press, but not solid frontrunner status.

So why is Rubio having trouble consolidating support? Douthat isn't certain, and I don't know either. But there is one obvious possibility. Maybe donors are leery of Rubio because he isn't white.

In 2008, Barack Obama's race was a major consideration in the Democratic primary. The Democratic establishment was concerned that he couldn't win white votes—which is why his victory in overwhelmingly white Iowa was so important. Even after that, Clinton attempted to argue that Obama's weakness with whites would hurt him (comments she'd no doubt like to forget at this point.)

Political scientists think that white voters did hurt Obama in 2008 and 2012. The popular narrative is that black turnout was such that Obama's race was a net positive. But in their book, The Gamble political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck found that in 2008, and even in 2012, unfavorable attitudes towards black people overall depressed Obama's vote share.

Sides and Vavreck are careful to argue that this doesn’t necessarily mean a white candidate would’ve beaten Romney by more in 2012, since another candidate would have other strengths and weaknesses. Still, if you were a Republican Party muckety-muck, it would be hard to read that data and not start thinking. There's been a lot of chatter about how Rubio will, or could, help with Hispanic voters—but what about with non-Hispanic voters?

Despite recent poll slips, the GOP is still giving a wide berth to Trump, driven in large part by nativist panic over Latino immigration. Trump frothed that immigrants bring drugs and crime and concluded "They're rapists." The Republican base, apparently, adores racist screeds demonizing Hispanics. Are they going to come out in force for a man named "Marco Rubio"?

My own guess is that they will. At this point, I think Rubio will win the Republican nomination. After he does so, he'll have a very good chance of becoming the first Hispanic president of the United States.

But it's not crazy to think that being Hispanic could lose Rubio votes, just as being black cost Obama. The media sometimes talks about minority identities as if they're an unfettered political positive. Obviously, there are advantages to being a "first" in terms of excitement, media coverage, and appeals to particular demographics.

But none of that should lead us to forget that the United States has been, and remains, quite racist—and for that matter, sexist. There's a reason we've had a couple of hundred years of white male presidents. White guys get advantages. The electorate rewards them. They have connections and resources, so, like Jeb Bush, they are inundated with money until they prove that they're completely incompetent.

Again, there could be other reasons that the Republican establishment has been slow to rally to Rubio. Maybe it's just hard for the party to give up its long, baffling, but seemingly unbreakable romance with the Bushes. But either way, it's worth remembering that the way things generally work in America is that people of color have to work twice as hard to get half as much recognition. That certainly seems to apply to Marco Rubio, as he continues to slog towards the nomination.

—Follow Noah Berlatsky on Twitter: @hoodedu 

  • Rubio's problem isn't racism, it's youth and whining. Whining about his senate job, whining about an immigration bill he, himself co-wrote, whining about how Obama hasn't been hawkish enough. Combine this with his youth, that only reminds republicans about one of their main election-year complaints about Obama, makes Rubio far from the asperational type candidate that republicans like to have.

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  • Aspirational? Romney and McCain were anything but aspirational. Rubio is a bit green: but considering the options to win (not likely), a Rubio/Kasich ticket makes most sense for GOP.

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  • That was part of my point. They both lost because they didn't inspire a big enough turnout. Bush W won on compassionate conservatism, Reagan won on a new morning and are you better off than 4 years ago, BushI won on kindler, gentler nation. McCain had Drill, Baby Drill and Country first while Mitt ran with Obama isn't working. What does Rubio have? A new American Century and Repeal Obamacare, two slogans that would have served W and Romney/McCain better but now just seems pathetically retro and whiny. Even Trumps Make America great again is better even though it presumes that the U.S. sucks currently. Basically, if Rubio wants a shot at winning, he needs to have some positive plans rather than just undoing 8 years of Obama and more war

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  • McCain lost because the economy was in the shitter and the GOP just lost a war. Romney lost because it's hard to beat a sitting president when the economy is growing, even if it's only growing mildly.//Rubio actually uses just the sort of aspirational rhetoric you talk about. He's an appealing and accomplished politician who's in the mainstream on gop policy issues. There's no reason he can't win in the general (though he might not; it'll be close.)

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  • Rubio has served less than one term as a senator and hasn't passed a single bill Hard to claim he's accomplished with that track record, (not to mention his horrible attendance record even before running for pres.) He is for 0 exceptions to his anti-abortion stance and his foreign policy positions mirror Cheney. Those may be mainstream tea party positions but not mainstream GOP. Throw in all his personal scandals and he will remind GOP and independents too much of anti-Obama rhetoric.

  • I rally with Noah on this one. Senate track records mean little: look at JFK and Obama. But I'm behind "all" his personal scandals, though I've read varying, and contradictory stories about money stuff.

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  • I think Rubio is a little to the right for GOP, but not that match; the party's been moving righter and righter. No exceptions for abortions is pretty extreme, but not an unusual position among GOP. And all aggression all the time seem pretty standard for the Republicans.//Let me put it this way. You're not going to get people in the party vetoing you because you're too hardline on abortion or too aggressive in foreign policy. Neither of those is disqualifying in the current GOP.// I think the attendance record stuff is largely nonsense; the value of a Senator has little to do with how many votes he does or doesn't miss. That's just an easy way to play gotcha.//As for experience, Rubio looks great compared to Trump, Carson, Fiorina...or even folks like Santorum, who've been out of office forever.// I think Rubio would be a terrible president, don't get me wrong; but I think all the GOP candidates would be horrible presidents, pretty much.//If there is some serious scandal, that could hurt him. We'll see if one comes up, I suppose.

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