Congratulations, Marco Rubio. You’re free.
For one thing, now that your presidential bid has ended, and you’ve already said you’re not running for re-election to the Senate, you’re no longer shackled by other people’s plans for you.
Back in December 2011, in Washington, I met with another Republican senator who was part of the GOP establishment. A moderate on immigration, she wanted to write a bill to accommodate Dreamers – those young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. “What about including Rubio?” I asked. “No,” she said. “This will be messy. We have big plans for Marco.” She didn’t say what the plans were. But it was clear that your colleague considered you a major asset to the GOP, and she wanted you to go far.
You’re also free to earn a good living. You have four children whom you’d probably like to send to college. As a lawyer, speaker, author and consultant, you could pull down more than $1 million next year. You have many gifts, and it’s time for you to reap the rewards. Much of what you have going for you has been prominently on display in recent months. You’re young, smart, telegenic, a hard puncher, a fast thinker, a quick study on foreign policy and a natural communicator – whether it’s on radio, on television, or in front of a crowd. Finally, you appeal to two groups who often clash: Hispanics and those white Americans who are frightened by the growth of our community.
And, to the degree that you choose to be, you’re also free of that one policy issue that has caused you so much grief: immigration. It’s odd that a self-described “son of exiles” – who later amended that phrasing to “immigrants” because your parents actually came to the United States in 1956, before Fidel Castro took power – had such trouble with how to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, how to provide workers for employers who need them, how to streamline the system for immigrating legally, and what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here. If only you had made progress as easily as you made enemies. Liberals accused you of turning your back on immigrants. Conservatives sent you angry mail telling you to “go back to Mexico.” Too ethnic for some, and not ethnic enough for others, you embodied the Hispanic experience in America.
You’re free of a political culture where one clumsy statement can send you into a ditch. Consider the brilliant exchange you had a few years ago with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who worried that legalized immigrants would vote Democratic. Not necessarily, you said. Not if the Republican Party adhered to its true values – entrepreneurship, smaller government, personal freedom, a strong defense. That was a contest that the GOP could win, you said. And Limbaugh was put in the awkward position of arguing with someone who seemed to believe in the persuasive power of conservative principles more than he did. You did not shine so bright when, during a Republican debate a few weeks ago, you turned to Ted Cruz and – in a cultural low blow – accused your fellow Cuban-American of not speaking Spanish. As someone who is himself so often accused by those on the left of selling out, you should have never gone there.
Most importantly, you’re free to be your own man, to think your own thoughts, and to chart your own destiny. Remember what you said about your parents at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa: “They immigrated to America with little more than the hope of a better life. My dad was a bartender. My mom was a cashier, a hotel maid and a stock clerk at Kmart. They never made it big. They were never rich. And yet, they were successful – because just a few decades removed from hopelessness, they made possible for us all the things that had been impossible for them.” You were always in your sweet spot when you talked about what you called “the American miracle” – the fact that, in this country, dreams come true that are unreachable anywhere else. So what’s your dream? Becoming president was what others expected of you. It’s time to claim your own miracle.
Vaya con dios, Marco. You did good. You made us proud. Now that you have your life back, make sure you live it to the fullest.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at email@example.com.