Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior (Republican) Senator and a rising star among conservatives, recently became enveloped in a controversy of his own making. During his 2010 campaign, Rubio emphasized his Cuban roots and would relate that he is the “son of exiles.”
Rubio would tell audiences that he was “born in Miami to Cuban-born parents who [came] to American following Fidel Castro’s takeover,” as his Senate website once stated. It was a compelling life story and an emotionally stirring appeal to the ideals of freedom, made more salient considering Rubio was running a Tea Party-backed candidacy. “I understood what it means to lose the gift of freedom,” Rubio would often say.
One problem: The Washington Post recently reported that Rubio has embellished his life story. His parents were not exactly exiles fleeing Castro, but left Cuba in 1956 – almost three years before Castro’s communist revolution. His parents left the island for economic reasons.
Rubio defended his past rhetoric by noting that his family did intend to return to Cuba and ended up losing their original home to Castro. ” After arriving in the United States, they had always hoped to one day return to Cuba if things improved and traveled there several times.” He added, “In 1961, my mother and older siblings did in fact return to Cuba while my father stayed behind wrapping up the family’s matters in the U.S. After just a few weeks living there, she fully realized the true nature of the direction Castro was taking Cuba and returned to the United States one month later, never to return,” Rubio said in a statement responding to the story. Rubio’s explanation makes his past story technically true – his parents were compelled to flee Cuba – but it is arguable that he previously sought to leave an alternative impression.
His Senate website, however, has been amended to say, Rubio “was born in Miami in 1971 to Cuban exiles who first arrived in the United States in 1956.”
All the same, Rubio’s story is less dramatic now and his credibility has been challenged. Rubio was presented by many Republicans as a Obama-like savior – young, charismatic and – in a GOP challenged in its appeal to minorities – Rubio is Hispanic; in contrast, liberals seized on the story to argue that Rubio was anything but another trite politician willing to mislead for a better story line and political expediency.
And now putative 2012 Republican front runner Mitt Romney has added his voice to the matter, fueling speculation that Romney is considering Rubio for the Vice-presidential nomination.
Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire, Romney said: “I think the world of Marco Rubio, support him entirely and think that the effort to try to smear him was unfortunate and bogus.”
Many Republicans have already opined that Rubio would be a strong candidate for the VP: he represents a crucial swing state, may rally an increasingly important voting bloc (Hispanics) to the GOP ticket, has credibility with conservatives (something Romney lacks) as both socially and fiscally orthodox, and will bring youth and vigor against President Obama’s own personable qualities.
Many have openly expressed the hope that Romney, if he is the nominee, will choose Rubio. Romney’s comment may simply have been an ad-hoc defense of a Republican and does not speak to any intent. But Rubio will likely by on any shortlist. Romney may praise him once more.