What Does Cuba Mean For 2016?

by Dish Staff

Cuba Parties

Rand Paul came out in support of President Obama’s historic opening with Cuba yesterday, putting him at odds with his putative primary competitors:

“The 50-year embargo just hasn’t worked,” Paul said. “If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working, and probably, it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship. “In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea,” he said.

The senator’s approach separates him from several potential Republican presidential hopefuls, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Paul’s Senate colleagues Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. His more libertarian outlook could win him support in agricultural states like Iowa, which holds the nation’s first presidential caucuses. Paul’s comments also parallel those of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote in her book “Hard Choices” that the embargo was a failure that gave the Castro regime “a foil to blame for Cuba’s economic woes.”

Kilgore expects Paul to pay a political price for that position:

Perhaps Paul is calculating that no one will care about Cuba policy by the time the 2016 nominating contest gets serious, and that could be true. But if, say, Marco Rubio is in the field, I don’t think Paul will be able to avoid the issue.

And I’ll betcha the other candidates will gang up on him just as they did on Ron about Iran, even as they largely refused to challenge his crazy monetary policy ideas or his long association with extremists. Conservative mistrust of the Paul family on national security issues hasn’t gone away by any means, and it’s surprising he’s giving it new life, even if he’s absolutely right on policy grounds. I’m quite sure Jennifer Rubin is writing a blog post on this fresh evidence of his “isolationism” as we speak.

Indeed, Rubio was quick to swat back that Paul “has no idea what he’s talking about”, to which Paul replied in a series of tweets, including this zinger:

Larison doubts that Rubio’s black-and-white approach to Cuba will win over very many voters:

It’s hard to see how Rubio benefits by becoming the leading opponent of a policy change that most Americans, most Floridians, and most Cuban-American Floridians support. He will win more applause from other hard-liners in his party, but that’s not something that a candidate running for re-election in a “swing” state normally wants. If it has an effect, it probably does more to hurt him in Florida, especially because of the positive effects that restored relations will likely have on Florida.

I fail to see how becoming the leading defender of an outdated and failed policy that most of his constituents reject improves Rubio’s chances of re-election. Yes, it raises Rubio’s national profile and it will get him a lot more attention in the coming year, but it’s not clear that Rubio benefits from being identified primarily with his hard-line foreign policy views. It is conceivable that Rubio could end up losing his Senate re-election bid because he becomes so closely identified with trying to block a change in policy that most people in his state say they want.

Waldman agrees:

On this issue, [Marco Rubio] is kind of like the teenager who wears a bow tie to school and agrees fervently with the senior citizens who are so fond of him that kids today have no respect, and ought to shut off that awful hip-hop and listen to some real music, like Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller. … But I don’t think he’s going to run anyway. He’s up for re-election to his Senate seat in 2016, so he’d have to give it up to run for president—and if he didn’t get the nomination, he’d be left with nothing. He’s only 43 years old, so he could run in 2020, 2024, or pretty much any time in the next quarter-century. He’s a pretty good politician, but he’s not so spectacularly skilled that he can reasonably look over the field and say, “I can take all of these bums.” So it’d probably be best for him to sit it out. And when he does run, Cuba probably won’t be an issue anymore.

But Greg Sargent isn’t so sure:

I would like all of this to be true. But here’s an alternate possibility: There may be no downside for Rubio here, particularly given what he needs to accomplish in the short term if he is running for president. After all, if Obama’s move does produce some successes in “accelerating change and democracy” in Cuba or in any other ways, it seems unlikely that they will be even acknowledged at all  inside the Conservative Entertainment Complex or among the GOP primary voters Rubio is apparently trying to reach. So where’s the gamble in getting this wrong?

Then, of course, there’s the money. As Kenneth Vogel and Tarini Parti discover, wealthy opponents of normalization are already lining up to line the pockets of the “right” candidates:

Since Obama’s announcement, top Cuban-American donors have been reaching out and offering support to the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, a leading opponent of normalization, according to the group’s director Mauricio Claver-Carone. “You’re definitely going to see a boon,” predicted Claver-Carone. “It will carry through the next cycle and will translate over to Jeb and Marco,” said Claver-Carone, whose group has hosted both Bush and Rubio at recent events, including a gala headlined by Bush last month in Miami that raised $200,000. …

And there’s an even deeper-pocketed group on the same side of the issue backed by the Koch brothers’ political operation. The LIBRE Initiative, which courts Latino voters with a conservative economic message, is registered under a section of the tax code – 501(c)4 – that allows it to shield its donors’ identities and requires only bare-bones financial disclosure and only well after Election Day. From July 2012 through June 2013, the group raised $5 million, according to its tax filings, and sources say it spent millions in this year’s midterms attacking Democrats in Texas, Arizona and Florida. The sources expect it to increase its spending in 2016, including potentially on ads opposing normalization.

(Chart showing majority Republican support for normalizing relations with Cuba from a February Atlantic Council report (pdf).)