November 29, 2010
By Matt Lewis
Pencil it in: The next GOP vice presidential nominee will be Hispanic.
That's my prediction, at least.
There are primarily two reasons for this. First, of course, is math: Hispanics represent a growing percentage of the voting population, and there is reason to believe they are "winnable" for Republicans.
As Texas Rep. Lamar Smith recently wrote in The Washington Post,
Exit polls reported by CNN . . . reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 -- more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent). In fact, since 1984, Republican House candidates have only won a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote in one election: 2004. This level of Hispanic support for Republican candidates came despite widespread pre-election claims by advocates for illegal immigration that the Arizona law and a pro-rule-of-law stand would undercut Hispanic support for Republicans.
Though the efficacy of this is highly debatable, Republicans will most likely assume that nominating a Hispanic Republican might help increase that 38 percent -- not so much because Hispanics want to elect a fellow Hispanic but because of the symbolic commitment such a selection might show.
But while vice presidential picks are (despite what politicians say) always political, playing cheap identity politics doesn't work, either.
Which brings me to my second reason: Republicans are now in the enviable position of having a new generation of qualified Hispanic leaders to choose from. The two most obvious picks would be Florida Sen.-elect Marco Rubio and New Mexico Gov.-elect Susana Martinez.
Back in April, I outlined all the reasons for why I thought Republicans should nominate the charismatic and eloquent Rubio for president in 2012. It was always going to be tough for him to achieve that in such a short period of time, and the fact that Charlie Crist launched an independent bid against him, forcing Rubio to campaign hard in the general election, probably ended what would have been a slight possibility to begin with.
I still think Rubio, who has the good fortune of representing the important state of Florida, has a good shot at becoming president someday, and his road to the White House may go through the vice presidency. After all, becoming vice president in 2012 might negate what would have been his biggest negative in 2016 or 2020 -- having been a U.S. senator for too long.
On the negative side, Carlos Eire, a Yale professor and author of "Learning to Die in Miami," tells me: "The U.S. news media would undoubtedly bungle most [of] its reporting by trying to portray Rubio as a traitor to his natural 'Hispanic' constituency, adding fuel to the fire."
He went on to add that it would be a mistake to assume other Hispanics might identify with a Cuban-American:
"Marco Rubio is a white guy, and the Mexicans and Central Americans who love to think of themselves as 'brown' or as a separate race (La Raza), are not going to gravitate to Rubio just because his parents spoke Spanish at home," he said.
While it might be a mistake to assume that someone from Peru would automatically vote for a Cuban-American, Republicans may conclude that a Mexican-American candidate could appeal to the large numbers of that constituency living in key states in the southwest.
As Eire notes,
There are serious reasons for those 17 different countries south of the border [retaining] their separate identities and autonomy. I don't know a single "Hispanic" who thinks of himself or herself as anything other than someone from a specific country: Peru, Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia, etc.
This very fact might open the door for Martinez, the daughter of Mexican-American parents (who would also be poised to become the first female vice president).
Of course, the obvious caveat, is that neither Rubio nor Martinez has even begun his/her term. It could be that they both implode -- though I seriously doubt that will happen.
This sort of strategic thinking, of course, is typically not advertised.
But you can bet the top advisers of whoever wins the GOP nomination in 2012 will take these factors into consideration. Either way, my very premature prediction is that Rubio and Martinez are already on the short list for vice presidential picks in 2012.
Source: Politics Daily