CHICAGO -- It’s fascinating that two Hispanic men -- both of whom are further to the right of where most Latinos stand on immigration -- are at the epicenter of the current reform debate.
Both Cuban-Americans, Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, represent the young, multicultural new face of what could someday become a diverse and welcoming Republican Party.
Until then, they’ll be two of the most important Hispanic political players that many Latinos don’t much care for.
As an architect of the Senate’s compromise bill, Rubio -- who in February graced the cover of Time magazine as “The Republican Savior” and “the new voice of the GOP” -- would probably emerge unscathed if the reform measure fails in the Senate.
Oh sure, there were mini-freakouts recently when some liberal commentators -- who had up to then expressed only an increasing admiration for Rubio’s evolving leadership on immigration -- began to worry that Rubio would come out against his own bill.
And liberal Latinos had already started pitching fits when he began talking about not voting for his own bill unless more border security measures were included. The complaints started building when Rubio announced he’d be submitting an amendment requiring immigrants to prove they could read, write and speak English before earning a green card.
Yet Rubio -- who fits a comforting narrative of charming, bilingual, pulled-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps, son of immigrants -- enjoys a benefit of the doubt that will keep him in the good graces of both the general public and the Republican Party.
Ted Cruz? Not so much.
Aside from tea partyers who just couldn’t be happier to have a Latino in their ranks who’s as passionate about abolishing the IRS and repealing Obamacare as they are -- Tea Party Nation recently proclaimed Cruz “an absolute American Hero” -- the junior senator from the Lone Star State seems to turn people off wherever he goes.
Many Hispanics -- even independent and moderate Republican ones -- are horrified by him. Cruz gets slammed not only for his ultra-conservative political views and his inability to speak Spanish, but particularly for his belief that current and former immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should not be eligible for citizenship.
A recent Latino Decisions poll found that 69 percent of Hispanic voters view Rubio more favorably for stating that the 11 million unauthorized immigrants deserve compassion. Only 28 percent view Cruz more favorably in light of his anti-citizenship stance.
But personality matters in politics. If Cruz were more convivial -- like, say, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who holds much the same views on granting citizenship -- it would be easier for Cruz to get away with sticking to his convictions. But the self-promoting, outspoken -- some say arrogant -- Cruz doesn’t have that kind of wiggle room.
Seen as a politically expedient figure, Cruz ticked off fellow Republican senators by openly criticizing them for their behind-the-scenes complaints of his strident anti-gun-control stance and filibuster threats in the weeks before the bill on background checks failed in the Senate.
A few months ago, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called Cruz a “wacko bird” for his brusque politicking on the Hill -- a moniker Cruz has proudly adopted. Last week, Vice President Joe Biden described Cruz as some sort of politically absolutist bogeyman, who, along with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has the ability “to cower the bulk of the Republican Party in the Senate.”
Most of all, Cruz fails on that ever-important Republican stumbling block of “tone.” He seems constantly scowling and “mad as hell,” etc., etc.
Hey, some people like that. And, at times, it’s even warranted -- but it’s hard to warm to.
Not that Cruz needs any warmth from the likes of moderates; he’s got plenty of gushing fans. And regardless of how much anyone dislikes his tone or apparent lack of esteem for his political elders, Cruz -- like Rubio -- conspicuously represents a community that so far has not been able to rise to superstar status as issue-movers or potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party.
In this spotlight, Cruz and Rubio represent two fundamental truths: Republicans, like Hispanics, are an ideologically diverse bunch. And, no matter the outcome of this immigration reform battle, the profile of Latinos in American politics has been elevated.
Follow Esther Cepeda on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.