Rubio’s surprising embrace of Trump

Sen. Marco Rubio and Donald Trump once traded insults, but now Rubio says he’d be ‘honored’ to speak on behalf of his former rival.
Sen. Marco Rubio and Donald Trump once traded insults, but now Rubio says he’d be ‘honored’ to speak on behalf of his former rival. pportal@miamiherald.com

We thought it would be impossible at this stage for Sen. Marco Rubio to disappoint us — one of us as an opinion writer and the other as an activist — but more importantly, as Hispanics. Marco Rubio has changed his immigration position several times, flipping on issues of importance to the Puerto Rican community both on the island and in Florida. But Rubio’s recent Donald Trump endorsement went beyond the imaginable.

After an intense primary, Rubio insisted in his concession speech that conservatism is “built on principles and ideas, not on fear, not on anger, not on preying on people’s frustration.” And yet Rubio pledged his support for a xenophobe he once described as a “con artist” who feeds off people’s worst fears. Worse, Rubio said he’d be “honored” to speak on Trump’s behalf at the Republican Convention.

Just in case Trump’s daily insults are the new normal, for Hispanics in his crosshairs his attacks are not a tolerable normal. Trump is the man who called immigrants drug dealers, rapists and promised to kill DACA, a program that protects DREAMers from deportation. He insulted a judge, trying a case against one of his businesses for alleged fraud, calling him a “Mexican.” Trump, who has the backing of white supremacist groups, has called women “pigs” and mocked a disabled man. And Rubio feels honored?

We were naïve to be surprised. Throughout his career, Marco Rubio consistently used immigrants as a stepping-stone to further his career. He joined a bipartisan immigration reform bill to notch a policy accomplishment, but quickly ran when faced with criticism from the right. In 2010 Rubio supported Arizona’s SB 1070, which would have allowed police to stop individuals if they “looked” or “sounded” undocumented. Our own accents and appearance would have fit that profile.

Then there’s his shiftiness toward 3.5 million Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens. At one point Rubio was open to helping Puerto Rico with its financial crisis. But once some hedge fund managers, who happened to be his donors, complained they would lose money if the island’s debt were restructured, Rubio quickly opposed helping. Did it matter to him that thousands are fleeing to Florida? It should have: Rubio lost Florida to Donald Trump.

And we still remember Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. To get elected to the Senate, Rubio opposed this qualified jurist, whom Puerto Ricans feel proud to call their own. He opposed her nomination to please his party’s extremists. Later, as a senator, he voted against the confirmation of Mari Carmen Aponte, another prominent Puerto Rican, as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. Rubio changed his vote later, when Boricuas living in the key I-4 Corridor criticized his opposition.

Rubio has skillfully wielded his Spanish and his “immigrant” story as tools to build a political career. Now he has put these tools at Trump’s service. Never mind that Rubio’s support translates into support for the Trump agenda: aggressive deportation policies, border walls, banning entire religions, objectifying women.

Trump in return stopped calling him “Little Marco” and urged him to run again for his Senate seat. At the very least, Trump hopes it will allow him to say he “loves Hispanics” without a taco bowl as a prop. Rubio’s slicker persona would make him an ideal surrogate to Donald Trump’s crass anti-immigrant agenda. Rubio has the ability to be anti-immigrant — saying he’d end DACA if elected — while sounding sympathetic.

Our community is not monolithic, nor focused solely on one issue. In fact, a Puerto Rican and a DREAMer penned this piece. But we are bound by culture and the dream to make better lives for our families. We both believe a broken immigration system is destroying families and an economic crisis in Puerto Rico is destroying livelihoods. A sense of community unites us. Seeing Rubio pull yet another 180 with his Trump support really touches these sensibilities.

But as the old Spanish saying goes, “Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Maribel Hastings and Juan Escalante work at America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. Hastings was born in Puerto Rico and is a former correspondent for La Opinión. Escalante is a DREAMer who came from Venezuela at the age of 11 and earned a master’s degree in public administration from Florida State University.