The normalcy of the Republican Party is no more, of course. What many thought was going to happen did not. The Donald Trump-Mike Pence ticket upsets what I believed was almost a given: That the GOP would put a Hispanic/Latino on the ticket, more likely as its vice presidential nominee since I did not think Marco Rubio would achieve enough traction to secure the top spot. As Rubio sputtered, I thought the chances of a Spanish surname in the second slot in both parties kept improving.
In my mind, any of the 16 other normal candidates for the Republican nomination probably would have gone that route, knowing that the new demography continues to tilt the electorate in the direction of the Democrats. In response, I believed, the Democratic nominee – whom I always believed would be Hillary Clinton – would respond by choosing a Hispanic/Latino to prevent any erosion among Hispanic/Latino voters.
Almost nothing is going according to what even long-tenured observers thought would be one of the central operating scenarios that would drive the presidential campaign this year: a Hispanic/Latino on a presidential ballot.
In truth, an important opportunity has passed, for the GOP more so than the Democratic Party. As important a moment has passed for Hispanics/Latinos. I was hoping for a Hispanic/Latino on both tickets for a simple reason: It would spur the incorporation of Hispanic/Latinos in the national consciousness – something that is needed more than most people understand. The fact that Hispanic/Latinos have not been an operational part of daily American life at all levels of business and government and media is the very reason Trump has done so well and the reason he choose another white male.
The moment that has passed is striking and it has the potential for roiling already roiled times. If the GOP is now fast becoming a white party, it seems that Rubio – if he is able to win a tight re-election to the Senate – probably has even less of a chance now of ever reaching the White House. He started off with such promise for 2016 and now ends with a slew of demerits he would have to overcome within his own party.
The ongoing battle for the soul of the GOP — assuming Trump loses — probably cannot have the face of Rubio leading the effort.
Since he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to evolve and adapt according to changing political exigencies – to put it kindly – he almost certainly must have given thought to changing parties. Becoming a Democrat is not a reach for Rubio, and he could argue, like Democrats who left the party as rank and file or as elected officials to become Republicans for the past 30 years, that ‘I did not abandon my party. It abandoned me’. And he would be right.
Rubio’s fumbled engagement with immigration nevertheless shows that he understands the importance of immigrants to the future of the country. Rubio is at a crossroads. Personally, his remaining a Republican clouds his future in no small way. Politically, he should know that he would be well-received by Democrats. After all, the electoral value for Democrats of nailing down Florida in 2020 and beyond is inestimable.
On the Democratic side, the probability that a Hispanic/Latino on his or her own could mount a race for the Presidency in the near future without the boost of first serving as Vice President is not high – unless he or she were an exceptionally talented rendition of Barack Obama. With apologies to the Hispanic/Latinos still being mentioned in the Democratic veepstakes two weeks before the convention in Philadelphia, the importance of the changed circumstances of 2016 is evident.
Hillary Clinton might yet surprise but her decision to not accentuate the issue that is driving significant numbers of white voters to Trump – in an age of increased terror that too many conflate with ethnicity – is understandable, especially for Democratic, reasonable Republican and independent Hispanic/Latino votes. Their primary goal should be to stop the abnormal threat poses by Trump, not to win the vice presidential nomination.
These are not normal times.
Jesús (Jesse) Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.