the national circus

Frank Rich on the National Circus: The Un-Unvetting of Marco Rubio

US Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL.
Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Last Friday, President Obama announced that the government wouldn’t seek to deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came here as children. A poll over the weekend found that 49 percent of Latino voters were more enthusiastic about Obama because of the announcement. How much did the election play into his decision?
The GOP criticism of Obama’s move is correct: It’s a short-term answer to the immigration mess, it’s a bypass of Congress, and the timing just might be driven by election year politics (duh!). But that criticism won’t get any traction: Obama’s move may be short-term, but it makes a real difference to the beneficiaries (and their families and friends). And it is, of course, brilliant as politics — particularly given that the president is running against an adversary who came out for “self-deportation” and a Washington GOP that blocked the DREAM Act that would have been a longer-term immigration solution. Ipso facto: Waning enthusiasm among Obama’s strong Latino base is no longer waning, and a subsequent Bloomberg poll found that likely voters endorse Obama’s stand by 2 to 1.  

How important is the Latino vote for Obama?
Meaningless in some swing states and of course in states that are not in play (like California), but then there are Colorado, Arizona, and Florida.

Sources told ABC yesterday that Florida senator Marco Rubio, tea party and Establishment darling alike, was not being vetted by the Romney campaign as a possible veep choice. Subsequently, the Romney campaign pushed back and said he was being vetted. 
This is a fascinating development, not unrelated to the question above. Jonathan Karl, the ABC correspondent who broke the story that Rubio was not being vetted, doesn’t get stuff like this wrong; surely his reporting was solid. And at first yesterday, Romney seemed to confirm Karl by ducking a friendly question about it (from the Fox News suck-up Sean Hannity). That Romney Etch A Sketched a few hours later and went on camera to declare that Rubio was being “thoroughly vetted” after all doesn’t mean that Rubio is a serious contender for the ticket. What it does mean is that Romney had to bend to conservative donors with a serious crush on Rubio — and to the political reality that not vetting Rubio looked like yet another Republican slap at Latinos.

Meanwhile, one “informal Romney adviser” said that Mitt wouldn’t pick a woman because of the Palin debacle. Does this mean anything?
True or not, that an “informal Romney adviser” would say such a thing (to NBC News) is yet another confirmation that his campaign is totally tone deaf when it comes to women (as it is to Latinos). The notion that McCain’s Palin debacle would eliminate all women from the GOP ticket mainly sends the message that Mitt patronizingly regards women as a one-size-fits-all special-interest group rather than a heterogeneous majority of the country.

Any thoughts on whom Romney will end up picking? And whom he’d be wise to pick?
He seems to be determined to pick a duller white man than he is. That’s a very high bar, and now that Mitch Daniels is going to become president of Purdue University, it seems we are down to Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty. Portman was Bush’s red-ink budget maestro, so it’s hard to imagine Romney handing the Democrats so big a target. Pawlenty has his own demerit: He campaigned hard for Mitt in his home state of Minnesota this year, and Mitt still came in third, behind Ron Paul. But Pawlenty does have one asset no other contender does — a few board seats not withstanding, he is currently unemployed. As is Romney. Putting another jobless man on the ticket may be the Man from Bain’s best shot at showing he really cares about Americans in the 99 percent.

The Times reported that Sheldon Adelson, who seems determined to become king of the Sugar Daddies, has committed $10 million to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and may give another $10 million to Koch-affiliated groups. Why are liberal Democratic billionaires not giving anywhere near this money to Obama-supporting groups? Are they just not worried about a Romney presidency?
I think there is a genuine enthusiasm deficit about Obama in this crowd for a myriad of reasons personal and political — including from George Soros and some Wall Street donors. I don’t know how worried they are about a GOP victory. After all, if Romney wins, Wall Street Democrats can cry all the way to the bank. 

Obama has selected John Kerry to play the role of Mitt Romney in debate prep. Bush strategist Matt Dowd famously (and mischievously) called Kerry “the best debater since Cicero.” Was this a smart choice on Obama’s part? Or does even the whiff of the ‘04 election seem problematic?
I doubt that Obama’s choice of a Romney-bot for debate preparations, no matter who it is, will have much effect on his performance in the debates. Kerry playing a behind-the-scenes campaign role will have zero effect on the election. Most voters won’t know and few would care. 2004 was a century ago. 

Newark mayor Cory Booker appeared on the Tonight Show on Monday, and defended his comments about “nauseating” attack ads by saying “the reaction to it all, really made my point — that we are now in America in this combustible, polarized, political environment which distracts us.” You just wrote a piece defending attack ads. What is Booker missing?
Well, yes, we are in a “combustible, polarized political environment,” and someone should tell Cory Booker that that is not going to change before Election Day (or likely after). This is America, not Morning Joe. If Booker thinks Obama should lead the way in changing this environment by taking the high road and eschewing negative ads, he might as well concede the election right now. The good news is that the Obama campaign released two new attack ads this morning.   

NBC announced that yet another Palin — this time former First Dude Todd — will appear on a reality TV show, this one hosted by former failed presidential candidate Wesley Clark. Who’s your favorite reality star Palin?
I still can’t get my mind about the fact that Wesley Clark — a distinguished general who was one of the earlier and wiser critics of the Iraq War — is doing a reality show. Only in America! But back to the First Family of Schlock. Lisa De Moraes, the Washington Post television columnist, has reported that the reality producer Mark Burnett (who also gave us Sarah Palin’s Alaska) tried and failed to sell a show about Todd’s career as a snowmobile racer. So now Todd is reduced to sharing the bill of NBC’s Stars Earn Stripes with such “celebrities” as Clark, Nick Lachey, Dean Cain, and the trainer from NBC’s The Biggest Loser. My favorite Palin reality star is Levi Johnston because they all hate him. But my secret hope is that once their TV careers are washed up, the day will come when the entire brood plays Broadway in a revival of Grease.

Frank Rich: The Un-Unvetting of Marco Rubio