THE STUMP NOVEMBER 1, 2011
The big question left hanging after the one-day storm over Marco Rubio's embellishments of his parents' departure from Cuba to Florida was whether the revelations would have any lingering impact on his chances for being the GOP vice presidential pick next summer. Well, we can safely say that Rubio has avoided much damage from the storm if we keep seeing the revelations framed like this:
Then last week, the senator sparred with news organizations over reports suggesting Mr. Rubio had embellished the story of his family's emigration from Cuba. The accounts suggested his parents fled for economic opportunity more than to escape political persecution, triggering a debate over whether his family could be considered typical of the community of Cuban-American political exiles.
This is from a fairly lengthy article in Friday's Wall Street Journal centered around an interview the newspaper had with Rubio around the theme of what will take for the Republican Party to win over Hispanic voters. Incredibly, the newspaper did not ask Rubio -- or see fit to quote his response -- about the Washington Post's and St. Petersburg Times' disclosures about his parents' arrival in Florida, which occurred in 1956, two and a half years before Fidel Castro's rise to power, despite Rubio's repeated claims or suggestions, including on his official Web site, that his parents were part of the wave of exiles fleeing Castro. The Journal's only reference to the revelations was the sole paragraph above, which mentions the smoke around the story but not the fire burning within it: the factual, document-based revelation -- not a "debate" or "suggestion" -- that Rubio's parents had come to the country in 1956, well before Castro's rise.
As it happens, also on Friday, the Post's Peter Wallsten had a very good follow-up piece to the original story by Manuel Roig-Franzia. Wallsten's piece is a nuanced look at the dynamics within the Hispanic community, where, as Jonathan Cohn noted in a recent piece in this magazine, there were already questions about how far and deep Rubio's appeal extended far from his Cuban-American base. Rubio's insistence on clinging to his cherished identity as the son of exiles, Wallsten writes, could exacerbate the gap between him and non-Cuban Hispanic voters:
Rubio made the exile story a central theme of his political biography, telling one audience during his Senate campaign, “Nothing against immigrants, but my parents are exiles.” A video, apparently produced for the conservative site RedState.com, shows black-and-white footage of Castro as Rubio speaks.
Even after the new reports of his parents’ entry, Rubio has said he remains the “son of exiles,” saying his parents had hoped to return to the island but did not because of the rise of a communist state.
But in elevating exile roots over the apparent reality of his parents’ more conventional exodus, Rubio risks setting up a tension point with the country’s Hispanic voters — most of whom are Mexican American and have immigrant friends or ancestors who did not have access to the virtually instant legal status now granted to Cubans who make it into the United States.
This is what it looks like to report on the complicated reality of Rubio's political situation now -- his position is not fatal, but it's more tenuous than it was two weeks ago. Or, as others are apparently planning to do, one can just continue on as if nothing much has happened, as if historical fact is all a matter of "debate," and barely fit for polite discussion in an article about the figure in question.