Marco Rubio wants to be Vice President so bad. The tea party-backed freshman senator from Florida is reportedly working on a DREAM Act-like proposal to benefit undocumented youth--with a catch. His version would strip away the original DREAM Act's core legalization benefits.
It's just the most recent move in a series of carefully orchestrated political maneuvers to launch Rubio into the next tier of national Republican politics. Yet according to activists and pollsters, his latest ploy will fall flat with Latino voters, exactly the population Rubio hopes to deliver for Republicans. In as much as Rubio's ascendance is due to the GOP's Latino problem, his continued success will hinge on whether the country buys his brand of identity politics.
"Republicans know that demographically it's a dying party of older white males, at least in the long term," said Chris Zepeda-Millan, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. "Marco Rubio's only value at the national level is the notion or the hope that he can attract Latinos toward them."
Latino voters won't be lured by Rubio's surname alone, say other Latino conservatives.
"They underestimate our intelligence," said DeeDee Garcia Blase, the founder of Somos Republicans, which bills itself as the largest Hispanic Republican grassroots organization in the nation. "They're making the mistake of putting all Hispanics in one pile. The Republican Party really thinks Hispanics are dumb."
Blase herself was a registered Republican until after more than 20 years of party membership after Rubio backed an immigration proposal by Rep. Lamar Smith, an infamous anti-immigrant crusader. "That was the straw that broke the camel's back ... I have watched the Republican Party marginalize Hispanic Republicans."
Rubio's Latino heritage won't atone for the last half decade of the Republican party's brutal offenses against the immigrant community. And for Latino voters, Rubio's new attempts won't erase the memory of his other positions, namely his inconsistent yet clear endorsement of Arizona's SB 1070 and his steadfast opposition to the DREAM Act.
"What I want to do is figure something out to help people ... in that situation, that is bipartisan, that unites us, that can get the sixty votes, but that doesn't have some of the problems that the DREAM Act, as currently drafted has," Rubio said on Fox News this weekend.
His plan would gut the DREAM Act, say immigrant rights activists.
"Taking away a pathway to citizenship is essentially taking away security from the undocumented student population," said Felipe Matos, an organizer with Presente Action. Presente Action is running a campaign called "No Somos Rubio" to educate the public about Rubio's immigration record. Citizenship is the only sure protection against deportation, Matos emphasized. Even green-card-holders who interact with the criminal justice system can be deported.
Matos, who is undocumented, said Rubio's as yet uncrafted dreamless DREAM Act is little more than a political ploy. "None of these bills are not going to pass in the House. It's not like we have a chance of passing anything, so it's obvious that they're just using us as pawns for their political success."
"By opposing the DREAM Act, [Rubio]'s out of step with the 90 percent of Latinos who support the DREAM Act," said Zepeda-Millan. "And interestingly, he's even out of step with Latino Republicans ... [who] support the DREAM Act at 76 percent."
Yet Rubio has been billed as the GOP's Great Latino Hope. The son of Cuban immigrants who supposedly came to America seeking refuge from Castro's regime, Rubio interned for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina elected to Congress, while he was in law school. When Rubio got into state politics, he followed up with his own set of firsts when he became Florida's first Latino speaker of the House and the youngest person to hold that position. He won his position in Congress in 2010 by following the trend of the rest of his party and shoving himself on a hard right path. He has endorsed Arizona's anti-immigrant SB 1070; stand your ground laws like the ones that may allow Trayvon Martin's killer to go unpunished; and a repeal of President Obama's healthcare reform. For those positions, Rubio's been anointed a darling of the tea party.
Even his critics remark about his skill as an orator, and the obvious appeal of his family narrative. It may not be enough to sway Latino voters, but, together with Rubio's new softened stance on a DREAM Act proposal, the combination may be enough to make non-Latinos give the Republican ticket a second look.
"This is a way for Rubio to come back to the middle [for the general election] so Republicans can be competitive with Barack Obama," said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, communications director of the Latino polling group Latino Decisions.
Tone matters, just about as much as the nuts and bolts of the policy.
"The tea party blaze of glory is fizzing out... I think it's him making his image in a broader, softer hue," Soto said.
What may not play well with any segment of the population is hypocritical deception, however. This weekend Rubio said he opposes the actual DREAM Act because it encourages "chain migration," a concept coined by conservatives which refers to immigration policies which allow immigrants to sponsor family members to come to the U.S. Yet Rubio's parents' immigration to the U.S. was enabled by exactly this process. Rubio's aunt sponsored his father to come to the U.S.--his family was a direct beneficiary of the system he now opposes.