Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

Rubio’s Losing Bet on Cuba Policy

It doesn't do Rubio any good to become the best-known spokesman of pro-embargo dead-enders
Marco Rubio

Jonathan Bernstein responds to my post on Rubio and the politics of normalization with Cuba:

But just because a policy polls well doesn’t mean it will help candidates who support it. For one thing, most people don’t really care much about most policy issues, even though they’ll answer survey questions. For another, it’s likely that the issue will have died down by fall 2016, even in Florida, and most voters won’t even remember what Rubio did.

That’s a fair point, and Bernstein could be right about this, but let me say a little more about this question. I suspect that the issue isn’t going to be allowed to “die down” over the next year. That is in no small part because Rubio and his allies want to draw as much attention to the issue as they can. He isn’t going to let the issue fade from view. The assumption behind the idea that Rubio has been handed a “gift” with this issue is that he is going to be able to exploit it in order to raise his profile and establish himself as an authority on foreign policy. The problem is that it doesn’t do Rubio any good to become the best-known spokesman of pro-embargo dead-enders. It puts him in the position of being seen as an especially strident, vocal opponent of something most people in his state say they prefer. Most voters very well may remember what Rubio has been doing between now and 2016 because he will be reminding them on a regular basis with his campaign against normalization.

Because Rubio will be seeking re-election in a presidential year, the electorate is already likely to be less conservative than the one that voted for him in 2010. Despite that, he appears to be going out of his way to identify himself as a partisan hard-liner at a time when you would think that he would be trying to broaden his appeal to voters outside of his party. Meanwhile, his performance over the last few days has not won him any admirers outside of the usual hawkish bubble. On the contrary, outside that bubble he is being mocked for throwing a “tantrum” and for being wedded to an outdated, worthless policy. If that is the kind of coverage Rubio keeps getting over the next year, it is bound to be a drag on his re-election campaign. Maybe it won’t be enough to sink him, but it’s an added burden in a cycle that is already likely to be quite challenging. At the very least, Rubio isn’t helping himself by becoming the lead critic of normalization, and he’s could be making his re-election a bit less likely.



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