A New York Times op-ed is revealing the hypocrisy of identity politics on the left with its dismissal of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio's strong finishes in the Iowa caucuses.
Cruz and Rubio, who won first and third in the Iowa GOP caucuses, are both of Cuban-American descent and the children of immigrants. Babalú Blog, a Florida-based conservative Cuban blog celebrated the historic nature of Cruz and Rubio's Iowa caucus results, noting that the two Cuban-American Senators "got more votes than anyone else (51%) in a state with very few Cubans." Only 1,226 Iowans — "a mere .0004 percent of the state's population" — reported Cuban identity on the 2010 U.S. Census.
"This means that in an age of extreme identity politics, something unusual is happening: Cruz and Rubio are attracting voters because of what they say and do rather than because of their ethnicity," the blog wrote. "God bless America."
But University of Southern California Professor Robert Suro, in an op-ed published Wednesday evening in the New York Times, doesn't see the same reasons to celebrate. Suro wrote why he believes Cruz and Rubio's Iowa victories failed to garner more headlines:
The answer is not that complicated: Neither Mr. Cruz nor Mr. Rubio meets conventional expectations of how Latino politicians are supposed to behave.
Neither of these candidates claims to speak for the Hispanic population or derive a crucial portion of their support from Hispanics, and neither bases much of his political identity on being a Latino. To varying degrees they oppose legalization for unauthorized immigrants, a policy that is central to most organized Latino political interests and that is supported by a great majority of Latino elected officials and Latino voter[s].
Rubio's communications director Alex Conant dismissed the Times' op-ed as "silliness" and declined to comment further.
Suro's op-ed reflects a long-running and troubling trend in the mainstream media, committing a very common sin among liberal commentators by assuming that the Democratic Party's positions on immigration issues are equivalent to Latino-Americans' positions.
First of all, despite Suro's assertion that neither Cruz nor Rubio "derive a crucial portion of their support from Hispanics," both won a solid portion of the Latino vote in their elections to the Senate.
In 2010, exit polls showed that Rubio won 55 percent of the Latino vote in a three-way general election battle with Charlie Crist, who left the GOP to run as an Independent, and former Congressman Kendrick Meek, the Democrat in that race.
Cruz lost the Latino vote in his 2012 Senate race in Texas, but outperformed Mitt Romney, that year's Republican presidential candidate. A poll taken by Cruz' Senate campaign shortly after the election showed that Hispanic Texans favored Democrat Paul Sadler over Cruz 60 percent to 40 percent, but favored Obama over Romney 59 percent to 33 percent. Nationally, Romney won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.
In a phone interview with Independent Journal Review, Babalú writer Carlos Eire slammed Suro's op-ed as a reflection of the New York Times' ongoing problems with "putting Latinos in a box," meaning that the paper has an oversimplified assumptions about the Latino community's ideology.
"There's a lot in that article that doesn't ring true to me," said Eire, "but it doesn't surprise me at all. Cuban-Americans and the New York Times don't get along, going back to the 1950s," when the Castro regime seized power during the Cuban Revolution:
"The Times can't help but keep the 'box' in place for all Latinos. They love the box, and they can only think one way, especially when it comes to Cubans. They've always been uncomfortable with the fact that Cuban exiles won't go into their tiny little boxes."
Eire noted that Suro did acknowledge that the Latino identity was more fluid than that of African-Americans, but criticized him for failing to "understand very basic things about Latinos in the United States...for us, economics is far more important [than immigration]."
Years of polling data back up Eire's view. Despite Suro's assertion that legalization for illegal immigrants is "central to most organized Latino political interests," polling has repeatedly shown that immigration is not actually one of the top issues for Latino voters. In a 2014 poll by the LIBRE Initiative of the Colorado Senate race and competitive Congressional races in Florida and Texas, the economy and jobs were the top issues for Latino voters by far, followed by education. Immigration was further down the list, garnering only single digit responses, in all three surveyed areas.
Other polls have shown strong support among Latinos for a variety of conservative causes, like school choice. A January 2016 poll of likely voters found that Latinos were among the strongest supporters for school choice, with 76 percent in favor and only 21 percent opposed.
"The reality is that Rubio and Cruz are expressing views that millions of Latinos embrace," LIBRE's executive director Daniel Garza said in a phone interview. Garza frequently points out a Pew Hispanic Research study that showed 35 percent of Latinos self-identify as conservative, but only 29 percent self-identify as liberals:
"The convention [on immigration] is framed by the Left, and it's a false convention that they want to project onto the Latino community. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are actually more reflective of the Latino community than Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, with respect to ideology, but the Latino left wants you to think otherwise, because it's in their political interest to do so."
"There's no question the GOP needs to do better job of outreach," he continued, but this shows "why they fear two strong and principled Latino candidates in the GOP who stand to make historic gains in the Latino community if one of them is the nominee."
The Democrats have long wielded the cause of "diversity" as a weapon to divide Americans and pander for votes within certain populations, but they face a tough sell in a year where their entire presidential field is comprised of Caucasian grandparents.
In contrast, not only is the Republican field more diverse, over 60 percent of Republican Iowa caucus voters threw their support behind two Cuban-American Senators and an African-American neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Professor Suro may question whether Cruz and Rubio "meet conventional expectations of how Latino politicians are supposed to behave," but apparently the two are meeting the expectations of what voters want in 2016.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.