In Miami, the Cuban-American community is not monolithic, but it is tight-knit. When former governor Jeb Bush and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio launched bids for president, supporters of the two favorite sons sought to put a friendly face on the rivalry. As Jorge Arrizurieta, a top GOP fundraiser and longtime Bush friend put it last summer, Miami’s Cuban-American politicos “really like Marco, but we love Jeb,” who has long been a sort of honorary member of the Miami Cuban family.
But since last fall, the race between the longtime friends and allies; virtually neighbors in Miami, has turned ugly. The men are competing in the same “establishment” lane, for the same Republican voters and a similar pool of big donors. Both are running as hawkish neoconservatives on foreign policy, and as social and fiscal conservatives, though Rubio takes a harder line on abortion. The two also used to share a view on comprehensive immigration reform, before Rubio abandoned the policy – and a bill he and his team co-authored – under pressure from conservatives and media figures on the right.
Arrizurieta and others are bemoaning the state of the race. Not only is their favorite, Jeb, doing poorly in the polls, he’s also being hit by increasingly personal attacks from the man he helped usher into political power in the Sunshine State, as Rubio and the super PACs supporting him tee off against the son and brother of former presidents.
The most recent hit came in the form of a mailer to New Hampshire voters from the pro-Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC, mocking the Bush dynasty. The mailer depicts Jeb wearing a crooked crown and standing beside an elderly Queen of England, King Henry VIII and the Burger King character. The caption below the Queen’s image is a quote from former First Lady Barbara Bush, saying, “We’ve had enough Bushes” as president.
“Jeb Bush is Marco Rubio’s mentor,” said Al Cardenas, who as a longtime Bush ally had a hand in Rubio’s rise as well. “Marco personally knows Jeb’s parents. I would have never thought that a Rubio campaign piece mocking one of the most loved First Ladies in our nation was plausible or that he would be capable of contemplating something like that.”
Bush has attacked Rubio as well, hitting him since last fall for spending so much time away from the Senate as he runs for president, and more recently, going after his lack of experience and preparation for the White House. Rubio allies in Florida complain that it was Jeb who went negative first, last October, which they called a sign of desperation as his campaign flailed despite raising more than $100 million.
But Jeb’s biggest backers, who will remain influential in Miami and Florida politics long after the race is over, are giving Rubio low marks for loyalty.
“This is not for the faint hearted,” Arrizurieta said of the challenge of running for president. “Yet Marco’s decision to run against Jeb speaks for itself. He whined about us bringing out his very own record based on his non-accomplishments. I guess this is the response. Picking on the former First Lady is frankly politically immature. And she’s very popular.”
Fernand Amandi, one half of the veteran Bendixen and Amandi polling firm, says the mailer carries some potential for local backlash for Rubio.
“In the Cuban American culture there is one person you never diss, and that is mom or ‘abuela,’ says Amandi, who is himself Cuban-American. “By mocking Barbara Bush, Marco Rubio did both and he will live to regret it.”
But Amandi sees the larger threat to Rubio comes not from negative mailers, but from his poor debate performance last week, and the repetitive answers that have unleashed a host of memes painting the young Senator as robotic and programmed.
“Rubio’s fortunes for the GOP nomination now rest in the hands of the New Hampshire electorate,” says Amandi. “If he places second or better all is forgiven, otherwise the bleeding will continue.”
Bush allies see the mailer as a matter of character, which if not repudiated could damage Rubio’s reputation at home.
“These are the type of episodes that end up defining a person and that one comes to regret,” added Cardenas. “Senator Rubio should contact Governor Bush and express his deepest regrets.”