5 reasons Trump is Rubio’s ticket to become the first Hispanic president

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) appears to be calculating that his dormant dream of becoming the first Hispanic president could be awakened by Donald Trump — by the same man who, in 2016, turned the senator’s presidential primary campaign into a comedic punchline.

With Rubio’s presidential ambition suppressed over the last eight years, his recent batch of controversial Trump-pleasing statements points to a newfound obeisance, whose aim might just be the vice presidential nomination.

Well established is Trump’s litmus test that potential running mates refuse to commit to accepting the results of the 2024 election. Last month, Rubio aced that test on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.”

Then, after Trump became a convicted felon, Republican leaders and vice presidential “shortlist” candidates raced to the microphones for a chorus of outrage, but Rubio’s remarks were the most extreme.

On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, said, “This is the quintessential show trial. This is what you see in communist countries. This is what I grew up having people in this community tell me about it happened in the days after the Castro revolution.”

Rubio’s sycophantic performance could be Trump’s vice presidential decision breakthrough — unlocking the White House gate for Rubio after his key was lost to young, unbridled ambition.

First elected to the Senate in 2010 at age 39, Rubio announced his presidential campaign on April 13, 2015. Numerous unenthusiastic Florida Republicans thought Rubio was “getting ahead of himself” or “in too much of a hurry” and “not ready to be president.”

Subsequently, the freshman senator was shredded on the presidential stage. As expected, in March 2016, Rubio’s primary campaign crashed and burned. Still, he was easily reelected that November, despite allegedly expressing “hatred” for the Senate amid his presidential campaign.

By mid-April 2021, Rubio’s career seemed to be floundering. CNN put him on its list of “10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022,” prompting my op-ed: “What happened to Marco Rubio, Time Mag’s ‘Republican Savior’ of 2013?”

But those headlines did not age well. In 2022, Rubio won his third term by a 16-point margin, even carrying heavily Democratic Miami-Dade County. He was absent from the 2024 presidential primaries, but by then he seemed to have found a niche as a respected Republican senator.

Nevertheless, this spring, Rubio’s name has popped up as a prospective running mate for Trump. And Republicans would consider him a brilliant choice, if not for his state of residence.

The 12th Amendment to the Constitution states that presidential electors may not choose both a president and vice president from the same state as themselves. This means that Florida’s 30 electors, if they vote for Trump, would not also be able to vote for Rubio, since both are Florida residents. This appears to make Rubio a gamble as a vice-presidential nominee.

Rubio seems undeterred by this constitutional problem. As the New York Times has reported, he “has told people that changing his residency would not be a problem,” and that there are possible workarounds. Note that the electors don’t vote until Dec. 17. Rubio could, at least in theory, resign his Senate seat on Nov. 6 and try to establish residency elsewhere.

If Trump selects the 53-year-old Rubio, it would make him the first Hispanic vice-presidential nominee on a major party ticket. Whether Trump wins or loses, Rubio would instantly become the frontrunner for 2028, the incumbent vice president, or both.

Considering all the above, there are at least five reasons Trump is Rubio’s ticket to becoming the “Hispanic Obama.”

First, Rubio is a practicing Catholic. Among the faithful, he is considered the “real thing,” in contrast to Biden. Unquestionably, he would bring Trump more Catholic voters, reminiscent of how vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence brought more evangelicals in 2016 despite Trump’s evident lack of churching.

According to exit polling, Trump won 50 percent of Catholics in 2020 to Biden’s 49 percent. Among Hispanic Catholics, Biden won 67 percent compared to Trump’s 32 percent. In the Rust Belt swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, with their large Catholic populations, Rubio could help deliver a Trump victory.

Second, polls indicate that Trump is already making headway with Hispanic voters, who are projected to outnumber Black voters in 2024 for the first time. Moreover, the Spanish-speaking Rubio could boost the ticket, especially among non-aligned young Hispanics.

Third, Rubio could serve as a “party unity” candidate, attracting voters who are unsure or don’t like Trump while broadening the overall appeal of the Republican ticket.

Fourth, after 14 years in the Senate, Rubio brings extensive domestic and foreign policy expertise. He is a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee in addition to serving as Intelligence vice chairman. Additionally, Rubio is stationed at the forefront of the immigration issue, which is critical to GOP voters. He could effectively shepherd Trump’s agenda through Congress while quietly soliciting support for himself in 2028.

Finally, Rubio would be an “insurance policy,” ready to take the top job on day one. Expect Trump to contrast Rubio with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is widely seen as a hugely unpopular drag on Biden’s ticket, considering the current president’s age and the unlikelihood that he will finish a second term.  

On the flip side, there are at least four reasons the former president might reject a Trump-Rubio ticket.

First, a plan to resolve the 12th Amendment problem must first be established. This probably cannot be resolved as a judicial question before the Nov. 5 election, so there is a great deal of risk.

Second, Trump distrusts Rubio. Although the senator now shows loyalty, Trump has a long memory, and Rubio’s 2016 statements eviscerating him will appear in anti-Trump ads. For example, “Friends do not let friends vote for con artists” — updated, perhaps, with “for a convicted felon.”

Third, Rubio voted to certify the 2020 presidential election. During his Senate floor speech, he said that “democracy is held together by people’s confidence in the election and a willingness to abide by its results.” Team Biden will relish comparing the Rubio of 2021 to the one under Trump’s spell.

Fourth, Trump could fear that Rubio will overshadow him. Remember that Trump’s vice presidential role model was Mike Pence, except on Jan. 6, 2021.

So there are ample grounds for Trump to look elsewhere. Even so, his campaign’s high command might convince him that Rubio is worth the risk.

Myra Adams served on the creative team of two GOP presidential campaigns, in 2004 and 2008.

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