The news that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had, at times over the years, wrongly recounted the timeline of his parents’ arrival in America is the first major test for the national Republican party’s fastest rising star.
“The supposed flight of Rubio’s parents has been at the core of the young senator’s political identity, both before and after his stunning tea-party-propelled victory in last year’s Senate election.”
While acknowledging that he had incorrect information about his parents’ exact arrival in the United States, Rubio argued in a statement that to suggest he misrepresented his family history for political gain is “outrageous” adding that: “What’s important is that the essential facts of my family’s story are completely accurate.”
Reaction outside of Rubio’s world was somewhat predictable with Republicans rallying to his side and Democrats jumping on the news as evidence that the shine is off the rising GOP star.
GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, himself a Cuban American, defended Rubio to the hilt. “I know Marco and he has always been clear that his family came here before Castro but, like all of us, could never go back,” said Castellanos.
Curt Anderson, a Republican consultant who did work for Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2010, dismissed the story’s impact on Rubio’s future political aspirations.
“The essential facts of his family story are the ones he has consistently represented,” said Anderson. “Maybe some of the dates need to be corrected. So what? This is a baseless attack and will not hurt him one bit.”
Not so, according to Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan who said the story is evidence that “Senator Rubio has not been fully vetted by the public, and is perhaps why he has distanced himself from vice presidential talks.”
No matter where you come down on the rightness of the story, it’s hard to argue that for a figure as well known and well regarded as Rubio is nationally, he has been subject to a relatively meager amount of scrutiny.
Much of that has to do with the governing dynamic of the 2010 Republican Senate primary that thrust Rubio into national prominence.
The narrative of that race focused almost exclusively on then Gov. Charlie Crist who became a national symbol for the sort of wishy-washy moderation that Republican voters rejected in the last election.
Rubio, almost by default, became the conservative hero — standing by first principles against the sort of “Republican in name only” ideology of Crist.
That characterization left some Florida GOPers rolling their eyes as they pointed out that Rubio wasn’t some renegade outsider but rather the former Speaker of the Florida state House.
But, the storyline was set and Rubio’s rocket ship was already gaining too much altitude for Crist or then Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic nominee in the open seat race, to do much about it.
To wit: A story by the St. Petersburg Times in February 2010 detailed the fact that Rubio had charged a series of personal expenditures to a Republican Party of Florida-issued American Express card during his time as Speaker.
Rubio insisted that he had reimbursed the party for any personal expenses and defended other charges as business expenses — including six plane tickets for his wife.
“My wife was the first lady of the Florida House of Representatives, and it is absolutely appropriate for her to accompany me to official events and party functions,” Rubio said at the time. (The Florida House has a “First Lady”? Who knew?)
That story, which was regarded by many in-state operatives as a bombshell, simply didn’t move the political needle. Rubio coasted to a primary and general election win, victories that further solidified his status as a rising star in the national Republican firmament.
But, with that elevated position comes increased scrutiny. And, unlike many of his colleagues who had to weather bruising races to get to where they are, Rubio’s path has been remarkably smooth.
While the near-term effect of the Post story will almost certainly be to create a rallying effect behind him — there is no better bogeymen to most Republicans than the mainstream media — the longer term impact of the story may well be more problematic for the Florida Senator.
Rubio is, without question, seen as potential vice presidential material in 2012. But, he first and most important rule of a vice presidential pick runs along the same lines as the Hippocratic Oath: Above all, do no harm.
Even if this story is nothing but a blip on the radar by the time the presidential nominee makes his (or her) veep pick next year, it will, without question, come up as part of the vetting process.
You can easily imagine a vetter (and the presidential nominee for whom he/she is working) wondering whether there are other elements of his past that Rubio he doesn’t have the full story on.
Doubt is a dangerous thing in any vice presidential vetting process. And, if there is a lingering whiff of doubt around Rubio, it could well lead the party’s eventual nominee to look elsewhere for their number two.