The 2016 presidential nomination process officially got underway tonight, and Ted Cruz was the big winner. In first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa, Hawkeye State voters chose Cruz over the other leading GOP candidates, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. Charles Krauthammer said that the Iowa caucus was a major inflection point on the Republican presidential campaign, as it punctured the aura of invincibility surrounding Donald Trump. “Had Trump won, it would have reinforced the sense of inevitability, the momentum he had,” Krauthammer explained. “This is the first time he’s encountered defeat.”
The days after the Iowa Caucus, where the front runner Trump lost to Ted Cruz and Rubio came a very close third, the Republican presidential contenders were attacking a young freshman Cuban-American senator who came away from the Iowa caucuses with a strong result that has given him momentum ahead of the New Hampshire primary on February 9. Yet they were not referring to Ted Cruz, the Texas senator, who cruised to victory on Monday, but Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, who came third.
Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – were at the No. 2 and 3 spots in the GOP nomination race nationally, albeit with a sizable gap behind the frontrunner Donald Trump. While Rubio poses a threat to Cruz and Trump, whom he almost beat in Iowa, he poses a bigger immediate obstacle to other right-of-centre establishment Republicans who are banking on a strong performance in New Hampshire to catapult their struggling campaigns into the top tier.
On the campaign stump, the 44-year old son of Cuban immigrants whose life epitomises the American dream sells himself as a “generational choice” who can beat either Hillary Clinton, 68, or Bernie Sanders, 74, in the general election.
Cruz and Rubio are Cuban Americans. Rubio’s grandfather remained in the U.S. despite a removal order and his parents arrived separately in the 1950s. Cruz’s father came to the U.S. and then moved to Canada, where Cruz was born; his mother was an American citizen. The attacks against Rubio has gtrown stronger ever since his surprise good performance in Iowa.
“This isn’t a student council election, everybody. This is an election for president of the United States. Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble,” snarked Chris Christie. He was referring to Rubio’s tendency to be rather scripted in his appearances — one New Hampshire reporter compared him to “a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points.”
Christie, pressing further — and when does Chris Christie not? — has also been saying that the speech Rubio sticks to is the same one he’s been giving since 2010. It’s true that there’s always the part about his parents, the striving Cuban immigrants. And you do get the feeling you’re supposed to vote for him because his dad and mom believed in the American dream.
As a young man, Rubio himself was not particularly hard working. In fact, in his memoir he admits he could be “insufferably demanding.” But he did sympathize with his parents’ struggles, and when his father, a bartender, went on strike in 1984, young Marco became “a committed union activist.”
According to reports, Rubio was a slow starter, education-wise, but he eventually graduated from law school, saddled with a load of student debt. This is, as he always points out, a familiar American story. The next part, where he instantly runs for office and acquires a billionaire benefactor who helps him out by underwriting low-stress jobs for Rubio and his wife, is slightly less average.
On the issues, Rubio says he has a new generation’s answers to the nation’s economic problems. The answers are mainly about reducing business taxes and regulations, but he says it in a much more youthful way. He’s anti-choice, even for victims of rape and incest. Lately, he’s taken to pointing to instances when he supported legislation that did include an exception. This is true. As long as a bill makes it harder for women to have access to abortion rights, he’s there.
He becomes one of the famous bipartisan “Gang of Eight” pushing for immigration reform. Rubio is a valuable partner for the Gang, and he makes them pay with repeated concessions, including a very strong provision for additional border security. Finally, the path-to-citizenship bill passes the Senate 68 to 32. “We are a compassionate people,” he says on the Senate floor.
In the competition with the other super-conservative Cuban-American contender, Ted Cruz, Rubio is regarded as more likable. This is not a heavy lift. He is also competing with Cruz for the affection of Christian conservatives, and while Rubio has always mentioned God in his political speeches, lately he’s been ramping things up. One of his ads in Iowa was about “the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.”
The immigrant presidential contenders are fighting to win the Hispanic voters in the nation, which is very crucial to win the general election. Their efforts to paint the other as not tough enough on immigration showed how far to the right the discussion on immigration has shifted, to a point that the Gang of Eight immigration reform plan Rubio once supported is completely off the table, said Stella Rouse, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. “That’s not even part of the Republican discussion of what can be accomplished,” Rouse said.
Cruz called the bipartisan Gang of Eight bill, passed by the Senate in 2013 and that included a series of steps over the years that led to applying for citizenship, a “massive amnesty plan.” “He was fighting to grant amnesty and not to secure the border. I was fighting to secure the border,” Cruz said.
Cruz’s campaign chairman told a group of GOP Hispanics that Cruz wants to be the champion of legal immigration. He also told them that Cruz supports “attrition through enforcement” for people not legally in the country, a phrase that the group interpreted as self deportation. “I have never supported legalization and I do not intend to support legalization,” Cruz said in the debate. Princeton University political scientist Ali Valenzuela said Rubio is in a better position than Cruz to take a moderate stance on immigration – as well as other issues – that might appeal to Latino voters in the general election. Rubio talked about immigration in a way that sounded “sincere” and “heartfelt” like he knew what he was talking about,” Valenzuela said.
“Immigration is not an issue that I read about in the newspaper or watch a documentary on PBS or CNN,” Rubio said in the debate. “My family are immigrants. My wife’s family are immigrants. All of my neighbors are immigrants. I see every aspect of this problem. The good the bad and the ugly,” he said.
The Republican establishment is thrilled: A moderate-sounding Gen X senator from a swing state! And one so good at spin he managed to give a victory speech in Iowa after he came in third. No wonder all the other candidates are jealous.