Rubio and Cruz as 'Great Brown Hopes' show how little Republicans know about Latinos

They are terrible candidates for the Republicans to pick if the goal is to recruit the constituency they so desperately need to stay relevant

You gotta hand it to the Republican Party. When one of their own makes history in the diversity game – say, Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, Sarah Palin as a vice president nominee, or Ronald Reagan becoming our nation’s first actor president – that trailblazer is so noxious that their origin group largely disowns them, leaving the party to lick its affirmative-action wounds. That’s exactly what’s going to happen to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the first-ever Latino Republicans to seriously campaign for their party’s presidential nomination (sorry, Ben Fernandez ).

Sí, let’s pause and marvel at the progress of Latinos in this country, that they can become also-ran presidential candidates as vacuous and bloviating as gringos!

But now that our moment of respect is done, let’s get real. Not only do Cruz or Rubio have little chance of becoming the GOP’s sacrificial lamb against Hillary Clinton in 2016, they are by far the worst candidates that Republicans could pick to recruit the very constituency that they so desperately need to stay relevant in a changing country: Latinos.

It’s not that Latino voters don’t respect the stories of Cruz and Rubio, whose parents came from working-class roots to achieve the American dream. Nor is it necessarily Latinos’ supposed hatred of Cubans, as some pundits try to paint it: go to Dodger Stadium, and see how the Chicano crowds cheer on outfielder Yasiel Puig, or go to any fiesta and hear Perez Prado, Celia Cruz, and Beny Moré draw people to the dance floor.

Rather, many Latinos don’t like that Cruz and Rubio represent the politics of Cuban immigration to los Estados Unidos, a saga far different from that of virtually every other Latino group.

Blame the White House’s Cold War game for the divide between Cuban Americans and other Latinos in America, not traditional Latin American rivalries. While Latinos who escaped sometimes-unfathomable violence in their countries – Central Americans during the 1980s, South Americans during their dirty wars, or Mexicans during this decade’s narcoterrorism – were rarely granted refugee status because American allies inflicted the violence they’d fled, Cubans famously received the red carpet treatment when fleeing Castro’s Cuba in the 1960s and beyond. Latinos who came to el Norte illegally for economic reasons had to evade la migra; Cubans who arrived after the initial wave were subjected to America’s infamously simple Cuban immigration policy: make it to land, and you can stay. ( Haitians certainly didn’t have it so easy .) Because of the double standard, many Latinos have long cast Cubans as entitled recipients of a hand-up that the rest of us never got. And, Cuban-Americans’ embrace of the Republicans who welcomed them while demonizing all other Latinos also created a political rift in the Latino community that any Cuban-American politician running outside of Florida and New Jersey must confront.

That chasm, undeserved or not, would’ve already weighed down Cruz and Rubio before they even tried to court Latino voters. Then we get to their actual politics. Cruz is a blip in Latino popular culture, both because of his alignment with the evangelical fringe of the GOP and because his Spanish is virtually non-existent. The latter isn’t a fair knock, and Cruz did have a great comeback in 2010 when explaining why he wouldn’t do a debate on Univisión: his Spanish wasn’t great and “That’s the world in which I grew up, and that’s a world in which a lot of second-generation immigrants find themselves”. But refusing to speak Spanish will draw snickers all along the campaign trail, especially when Jeb Bush can speak better Spanish than most Democratic Latino politicians.

Rubio, on the other hand, would seem to be a Latino dream candidate: young, fluent in Spanish, directly tied to the immigrant experience and even self-deprecating . His advisors are even whispering about how his pop culture fluency will particularly appeal to young Latinos. But Latino millennials are the exact group that Rubio has antagonized the most, because on immigration, Rubio went from being somewhat sympathetic to the plight of undocumented youth to blabbering about closing borders before anything else .

His new hard-line approach brought the scorn of young immigration reform activists, who seem to take glee in rattling him . On this issue, the supposed Latino hive mentality comes to bite Rubio in the nalgas: you ain’t exactly going to win the Latino vote when you suggest that a generation of them ought to be deported for the simple act of living in this country without papers.

That the Republicans think Rubio – and Cruz, to a lesser extent – is their Great Brown Hope instead of a Great Brown Nope despite all his negatives with Latinos ( he even introduced Mitt Romney during the 2012 Republican convention ) shows, once again, how much work the Reeps need to do to attract non-Cuban Latinos to their party. Rubio, at least, has long known this divide was going to be an issue for him and tried to stave it off: in 2012, he told a crowd , “Dividing Cubans against the rest of the Hispanic community is not only absurd, it’s offensive.” Rubio, at least, has long known this divide was going to be an issue for him and tried to stave it off: in 2012, he told a crowd, “Dividing Cubans against the rest of the Hispanic community is not only absurd, it’s offensive.” (Note to Rubio: telling undocumented students that they “don’t have a right to illegally immigrate into the United States” when your own abuelito was ordered to be deported didn’t help your case.)

But the real offensive thing is how out-of-touch Rubio and Cruz are with non-Cuban Latinos. You know you’re bad when a gringo like Jeb is more attuned to Latino issues than the two of them combined – and Jeb is a pinche Bush, for Chrissakes! ( He is not, however, actually Latino , all voter registration forms to the contrary.) © Guardian News and Media 2015