Rubio’s Strategy on Cuba

Some of the accounts of Sen. Marco Rubio’s snarling reaction to the president’s reevaluation of Cuba policy naturally stress the personal connection: the guy grew up in the hothouse of exile-dominated South Florida Cuban-American politics, so perhaps he’s being driven by sheer emotion to hitch his political wagon to the north end of a south-bound apatosaurus by championing this loser cause.

Or perhaps we are just seeing yet another case of the currently reigning maxim of Republican politics: there’s rarely much risk in being “too conservative.” The same Politico piece that discussed Rubio’s personal connection to the issue also suggested the timing of his outburst–a day after former mentor and now rival Jeb Bush took a move towards a presidential campaign–was not coincidental:

Rubio’s actions were also smart politics for a man who may run for president, especially after a news cycle dominated by speculation about how Bush’s announcement could shape the GOP primary field and affect donors’ calculations.

With his push on Cuba, Rubio is back on the radar and out of Bush’s shadow, at least for now. His aggressive stance also could boost him in Florida, a critical early primary state in presidential years that is home to a still-powerful Cuban-American community.

As you may recall, Rubio was riding very high at the beginning of 2013 before he became identified with the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill. After the bill was passed by the Senate, his support-levels among conservatives nationally and in early caucus and primary states collapsed, and he began what has been a relentless campaign to regain right-wing trust. So his wild rhetoric on Cuba is in the end no different from the crazy sounds his Senate and Gang colleague Lindsey Graham regularly makes about Benghazi! It’s all covering fire, and it gives Rubio a guaranteed crowd-pleasing theme for proto-campaign appearances. More subtly, his “leadership” role on Cuba could displace the immigration reform disaster as the first thing mentioned in profiles and other descriptions of the Floridian.

As Greg Sargent concludes this morning:

There may be no downside for Rubio here, particularly given what he needs to accomplish in the short term if he is running for president. After all, if Obama’s move does produce some successes in “accelerating change and democracy” in Cuba or in any other ways, it seems unlikely that they will be even acknowledged at all inside the Conservative Entertainment Complex or among the GOP primary voters Rubio is apparently trying to reach. So where’s the gamble in getting this wrong?

From the hammerheaded perspective of someone trying to get into the mind of a likely Iowa Caucus-goer, probably none at all.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.