Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio: The GOP's Whitest Candidates

Conservatives of color often complain that they are treated harshly by the liberal media for not fitting the "stereotype" of how a racial minority should think and vote. Yet many of these same complainants flirt with another stereotype of an arguably more disturbing vintage: the classic Uncle Tom or race traitor. The Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Xavier Becerra, was circumspect in discussing Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, two frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination, but his assessment was clear: "Here's the real problem I have with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio: It feels like they're running from their heritage in my book."

What offends Becerra, himself a Latino, isn't Cruz and Rubio's purported conservatism, but rather the hypocrisy that their race to the right reveals. Cruz and Rubio are of Cuban lineage. The immigration laws afford special treatment to Cubans arriving on American soil, as Becerra noted in criticizing the candidates' views on Central American children seeking asylum in the U.S.:

"If that child is Cuban, and makes it, puts a toe over the U.S. border, they become refugees automatically. Automatically. And they don't say anything about changing the law that gives a Cuban this extreme advantage over anyone else. Yet they blast and they attack these immigrant families that are trying to do better for their kids. And so, you could be conservative. You could say, put up a wall. But then, make sure everyone gets behind that and can't get a special privilege just because of their particular national origin."

This kind of hypocrisy is endemic to conservatives of color. Indeed, Cruz and Rubio's positions on immigration are the Latino equivalents of Justice Clarence Thomas condemning affirmative action even though his entire career and lifetime seat on the Supreme Court embodies (in both good and bad ways) that very concept.

Conservatives of color find themselves ideologically tongue-tied so often because it's just not that easy to escape who you are, even when the reward might be the presidency. So, on the one hand, Marco Rubio is keen to invoke his parents' immigrant background, albeit not always accurately. On the other hand, though, Rubio sounds positively Trump-like in his assessment of the state of the union. Speaking to white Iowans, Rubio has said, "We sometimes feel like strangers in our own nation." No, the "we" Rubio was referring to was not Latinos. The only thing more absurd would have been delivering the same line to the same audience in Spanish.

Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus caterwauled that the liberal media all but ignored the milestone of Ted Cruz being the first Latino to win the Iowa caucuses. Maybe it did. And maybe that's because Ted Cruz campaigns as, and has lived his life as, a white guy who happens to have a Spanish surname.

I doubt any of the marchers for voting rights in Selma, Alabama on "Bloody Sunday" had the advancement of a Ted Cruz in mind as they were being clubbed by the state police. In the Senate, Cruz has sponsored legislation that would make it more difficult to vote by allowing states to require proof of citizenship before registering. Cruz supported repeal of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is credited with giving minorities, including Latinos, an equal ability to elect candidates of their choice. The reauthorization of that provision was supported by most Republican senators, so Cruz is even out of step with the white right. And not surprisingly, Cruz has called affirmative action for racial minorities "insidious."

It may be that in the post-racial America that conservatives are attempting to contrive, equal opportunity means equal opportunism. If so, Cruz and Rubio have achieved stunning (temporary) successes.