But while he may be the best chance the GOP has to drag the party into the 21st century and connect with an essential part of the electorate, it may not be much of a chance after all. Because the problem between the GOP and Latinos isn’t marketing—it’s their policies. Marco Rubio may just be another GOP attempt to put lipstick on a pig.
The share of Latinos who identify as Republican over the last 15 years has remained relatively stable. According to Pew Hispanic Research, about 25 percent of Latinos identified as Republican in 1999, while 27 percent of Latinos did in 2014. That isn’t likely to change by much in 2016. And Rubio isn’t polling well among Latinos at the moment. Latino Decisions reports that Marco Rubio has a net-negative favorability rating in each state they polled except for Texas, where his net-favorability rating is a wash. The bottom line: Where Republicans go, anti-immigrant policies will follow.
While Marco Rubio’s stance on immigration wasn’t always so hard-line, he now supports ending DACA relief for eligible undocumented immigrants. About four million undocumented immigrants are eligible for temporary relief, and DACA is strongly favored by Latinos. Messing with DACA may appeal to the GOP base, but it won’t go over well with Latinos in 2016, especially since the policy is wholly dependent on the president. If Rubio is elected, ending DACA relief is likely to be the first thing on the agenda.
Marco Rubio is a walking immigration irony. He is not what happens when “you do it right,” but an example of what integrative immigration policies can do. The only entity that did it right in relation to Marco Rubio’s immigration story was the federal government and their favorable policies towards Cubans. Explaining why he wants to deny other Latinos access to the same opportunities his parents had won’t go over well in the Latino “firewall” states.
But immigration isn’t the only thing that matters to Latinos. In Gary Segura and Shaun Bowler’s book, The Future is Ours, they report that almost 74 percent of Latinos support greater government involvement to address the problems we face as a country. Meanwhile, the GOP favors small government and free markets—except when they don’t. Republicans, including Marco Rubio have been strong advocates of government intrusion of the job market when it comes to Latinos, by strongly pushing for E-verify, a system that threatens jobs and liberties.
The GOP continues to block student loan reform that will provide relief for Latinos. Unlike the older, whiter demographic of Republicans who benefited from a strong investment in education by the government, today’s GOP presidential hopefuls need to explain how education is important while arguing for less oversight of education by the federal government. And Latinos won’t be comforted by Marco Rubio’s states-rights argument, since minorities have historically fared poorly in these types of decisions where states are in charge. Latinos will want to know why, if states are such great arbiters of education, Rubio presided over $2.3 billion worth of cuts to Florida’s public education system.
When it comes to social issues, Republicans and Latinos couldn’t be more out of synch. Latinos support gay marriage in line with whites and the country. The GOP may be able to chip away at some protestant Hispanics with an anti-gay message, but Latinos are a young demographic, and young people support gay marriage. Pew Research reports that seven in 10 Millenials support same sex marriage and about a fifth of U.S. Millenials are Hispanic. Rubio might have a tough time explaining why he’s railed against gay parents’ right to adopt children, or helped fundraise for the Florida Family Policy Council, an organization that supports "ex-gay therapy."
Across the board, Latinos favor strong protections for the environment. From ending subsidies to oil and gas in New Mexico to strong views on conservation of national parks, forests, and wildlife, Latinos are far less likely to respond positively to anything resembling “drill baby, drill”.
Nobody likes taxes, and you’d think Rubio would at least fare well among Latinos when it comes to his hardline approach on taxes. But the fine print in their low taxes plans is that they also shift revenue-making policies to those which largely hurt low income taxpayers. The GOP has been at the forefront of eliminating the earned income tax credits (EITC) and supporting regressive tax policies like sales taxes to make up for the reductions in income taxes. Rubio has been in step with his party the whole way, advocating for a flat tax, extending the Bush tax cuts, and eliminating Florida’s property tax.
Marco Rubio and the GOP have fought tooth and nail against the expansion of Medicaid, a program that Latinos strongly favor in Rubio’s home state of Florida. Latinos strongly believe that the government should play a strong role in guaranteeing access to health care compared with the overall public. While support for the Affordable Care Act has waned, a GOP that has fought government support for healthcare is not likely to convince Latinos that a “free market” approach to health care is the answer.
Prisons are a big sticking point, too. The U.S. has among the highest incarceration rates in the world, surpassing Iran and Russia. Private prisons also house undocumented immigrants without any rights to due process and they disproportionately prey on minorities. Marco Rubio has been tied to one of the largest private prisons companies in the country, GEO Group, headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida. The privatization of the prison system has been seen as directly correlated to the high incarceration rates and it’s not just a Rubio problem. The GOP continues to push for private jails to save money. Doug Ducey of Arizona recently proposed a 70 million dollar reduction in higher education to balance the budget, only to propose a shift in those savings to increase state spending on private prisons. The GOP-run legislature surpassed Governor Ducey’s cuts in education by 30 million dollars.
Republicans hate unions and worker protection laws. The white middle class benefited substantially from strong unions, and the fall of unions has mirrored the fall of the middle class. Also, where Republicans go, right to work laws go. These laws significantly hurt Latinos. Republicans also oppose raising the minimum wage, a policy that has a significant negative impact on Latinos.
Wealth inequality between whites and Latinos is staggering. While the median wealth among whites is over $141,000, median wealth among Latinos is $13,700. The average age of Fox New viewers is 68 years old and come from a generation of Americans who benefited from a substantial government investment in education, infrastructure, housing, worker protections, and an expanding safety net. The substantial wealth of this generation is attributable and a testament to the investment of the government after WWII. The GOP wants to tear these policies down
Rubio may be young and charismatic, but when it comes to policy, he’s right in line with his party’s current M.O. The GOP's brand of liberty isn’t something Latinos are likely to buy given the party's record—no matter who is doing the selling.
Stephen A. Nuño is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University and a Contributor to NBC News.