The Corner

Does Rand Paul’s Trolling Marco Rubio Make Any Political Sense?

Andrew, about that senatorial Twitter melee:

I am willing to entertain the possibility that Rand Paul supports rolling back the Cuban embargo as a matter of principle — “peace through commerce,” etc., as he wrote — and that his conscience demanded that he publicly plant his flag. But as a matter of politics for an all-but-declared 2016 GOP presidential candidate, his zeal in confronting Rubio is surprising.

In 1997, Gallup found that the country was evenly split on the question, “Do you favor or oppose re-establishing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba?” In 2009, when Gallup last posed the question, 60 percent of Americans favored normalizing relations, and 30 percent opposed. According to the Atlantic Council and the New York Times, which both conducted polls this year, those numbers have held steady, and the Atlantic Council found that those numbers were no different among Hispanics or Floridians generally.

All of that would seem to favor Paul — except for the fact that effectively no one is going to select a candidate based on their position on the Cuban embargo. (Which is not to say that it will not be employed as an indicator of a general inclination toward or against foreign policy hawkishness — but even on that score there are much better pointers: policy toward the Islamic State, Iran, China, Russia, etc., to name only a few).

However, at least some voters may be inclined to change their vote based on the embargo: namely, Cuban Americans. They are not of one mind on the subject: A Florida International University poll of Cuban Americans in Miami found that 52 percent of all respondents oppose continuing the embargo, with a similar split among registered voters. That is a significant drop in support (30+ points) from two decades ago. But it is not necessarily a swing of opinion, as much as a fade. Older Cuban-American voters, many of them first-generation refugees, are staunchly in support of the embargo; younger Cuban Americans, removed by a generation (or more) from life in Cuba, are less likely to support it — and also more likely to just not care. In a recent poll of Cuban-American voters by Latino Decisions, one-third said the issue is “very important.” They are much more likely to be supporters.

And that matters a whole lot in the key swing state of Florida (electoral votes up for grabs: 29). Mitt Romney lost the state by less than 75,000 votes in 2012, and won Cuban Americans, according to a survey by Bendixen & Amandi International, just 52–48 — down from 2008. Considering that there are more than enough Cubans (125,000) in Miami-Dade County alone to make up Romney’s losing margin, and more than 1.2 million in the state, move the needle just a few ticks rightward, and a Republican presidential nominee could take Florida.

Why alienate those potential voters from the get-go?

And that’s to say nothing of a primary battle. There is a range of opinion on the embargo within the Republican party, but certainly no one is inclined to think the U.S. should simply hug it out with the Castro brothers, which seems to be President Obama’s plan, given that he is normalizing relations without requiring anything substantive in the way of political or human-rights reforms in return. Perhaps Paul would make these demands, but his statement suggests that the embargo deserves to go solely on account of its ineffectiveness — a fact that, itself, is debatable.

And, finally, there is the way that this was done: a poke-in-the-ribs, quasi-trolling outburst aimed at a party colleague over social media — one whose connections to this issue, furthermore, are deeply personal. Yes, Rubio said Paul “has no idea what he’s talking about” when it comes to Cuba.

But this did not do much to prove him wrong.

Most Popular


The 24 Democrats

Every presidential primary ends with one winner and a lot of losers. Some might argue that one or two once-little-known candidates who overperform low expectations get to enjoy a form of moral victory. (Ben Carson and Rick Perry might be happy how the 2016 cycle ended, with both taking roles in Trump’s cabinet. ... Read More