In 2008, the Democratic Party shifted what it meant to be electable in the United States. The primary was going to yield either the first black presidential candidate (sorry, Bill Clinton) or the first female presidential candidate by either of the two major parties in a general election. This change meant that diversity was cemented a key factor in presidential politics. Such was the case in the following presidential election in 2012, where white voters and male voters favored Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney while a majority of minorities and women voted for President Obama.
This year, on the Republican side, the candidates are more racially and ethnically diverse than their Democratic counterparts. Down to five candidates from the original 17, the race still includes two sons of Cuban immigrants—Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio—and famous black neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Yet, for many, the question lingers: Are these candidates truly representative of the communities they come from?
Obviously, there is no such thing as out and out minority issues, no matter how the media tries to paint topics such as immigration. When communities choose which candidates to identify with, they don't only pay attention to the color of their skin.
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have quite similar backstories. As junior Senators in their mid-forties, the sons of Cuban immigrants are aiming for the highest office in the land in order to enact their visions for America. Rubio was elected to the Senate during the “Republican wave” in 2010, and Cruz joined him in 2012. The two senators are both considered strong conservatives. Both have spoken out against President Obama on numerous issues, and both have right-leaning visions for America.
But beyond these similarities, Rubio and Cruz are radically different when it comes to representing what it means to be a minority candidate. This became apparent to many during the most recent Republican debate when Rubio called Cruz out for not speaking Spanish. Unlike Cruz, Rubio is fluent in both English and Spanish and has routinely given interviews on Univision in Spanish.
Looking more deeply at the track records of both candidates, it is clear that Cruz does not view himself as a candidate that represents the Latino community in the United States. His personal narrative only includes cursory mentions of his father’s departure from Cuba, usually accompanied by claims that the United States is “the land of freedom and opportunity.” When juxtaposed with Rubio’s story, it is clear that Rubio has a better grasp on the issues facing minority families. This could come down to differences in upbringing, with Rubio being brought up in Miami, surrounded by Cuban-Americans, while Cruz grew up in Canada and the Houston area, which is dominated by Mexican-Americans, whose culture is more foreign to Cruz.
Similarly, Rubio attended public high school and universities while Cruz went to private institutions. Whether it has any bearing on election outcomes, Rubio seems much more aware than Cruz ever has been that minorities do not face an equal playing field. While the Latino voting bloc is neither a monolithic group nor a one-party or single-issue electorate, Rubio has made efforts to reach out to the Latino community. His efforts on comprehensive immigration reform demonstrate his desire to help marginalized communities, despite the fact that he ultimately voted against his own bill.
Barack Obama never ran as the “black candidate,” and neither Cruz nor Rubio is running as the “Latino candidate.” But Rubio has made his ethnicity and his experiences as a minority far more visible in his campaign. He knows how to reach out to minorities and explain to them how he will build a system that includes them. That’s not Cruz’s game plan. As a casual observer, I put more trust in Rubio as a leader in the community. While his vision is not mine, I do think he represents the Latino community more than Cruz ever will. Does this particularly matter? Maybe, maybe not. But when college or high school students look up to politicians as role models, they should choose Rubio over Cruz.
J. Camilo Vilaseca CM '16 is from Berkeley, CA and is an International Relations and Economics major.