So if an Indian American, an African American, and a Cuban American all walk into a high-school gym together, what do you have?
“The new look of the conservative movement,” declared South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who along with US Senator Tim Scott, have been barnstorming across the Palmetto State on behalf of fellow Republican Macro Rubio in the final days of the Republican presidential primary.
It’s not the kind of leadership tableau you’d have expected just a few years ago from the Republican Party, certainly not in a conservative southern state like South Carolina. And the neo-GOP trio is not just racially or ethnically different. With Rubio and Haley both 44, and Scott 50, they all hail from Generation X.
Certainly the large crowd at RB Stall High School in Charleston reacted enthusiastically to them.
Some voters, like Ed Bennett, retired Army, from Charleston, said he’d never thought of them in racial or ethnic terms, but just liked them because of what they stood for and the way they conduct themselves.
Others were inspired by the idea that, as a first generation American, Rubio was a serious presidential prospect.
“He is the epitome of the American dream,” gushed Dan Laudone, a home inspector who lives in Pawley’s Island, a coastal community near Myrtle Beach, as he waited for a Rubio rally eventually canceled because of airplane problems.
“He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Ronald Reagan,” declared Karen Beal of Georgetown, whose parents were instrumental in jump-starting the Republican Party in the area.
Tracy Kurtz, a forty-something mom at Rubio’s Charleston rally, said Republicans like Rubio, Haley, and Scott are essential to the party’s survival.
“That’s what we need,” she said. People “are pretty naïve if they think it is going to work any other way.”
But will it work this way?
The three political pals plus Caucasian Congressman Trey Gowdy, who is also backing Rubio, “looked like a [United Colors of] Benetton ad,” Haley joked.
The question: Is it an ad that could sell the GOP’s aging political product to a new universe of voters?
That’s part of Rubio’s conservative appeal. He told the crowd that he would “take our principles to people who do not vote for us,” to those who grew up poor, “to the people who live paycheck to paycheck.”
The crowd of 1,000 or so loved that line — but you couldn’t help but notice that that same crowd had only a smattering of non-white faces.
Now, let’s set aside front-runner Donald Trump for a minute. Certainly if Rubio won the nomination and tapped Haley for his ticket, that would give the GOP bragging rights when it comes to youth, diversity, and charisma.
But would that repair the ill will the GOP has created with Latino voters during a campaign filled with harsh rhetoric about illegal immigrants?
That’s a particularly pertinent question given that Rubio has not only abandoned his previous support for comprehensive immigration reform, but, under pressure from Ted Cruz, has now declared that he would end the Obama-administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on day one. That would mean no more deportation protection for the so-called dreamers.
On to health care: Even framed as a restoration of liberty, would the prospect of repealing the Affordable Care Act be greeted with equanimity by minority voters who have gained health coverage because of Obamacare? Or might they actually be willing to forgo the heady freedom of facing serious illness without proper medical care?
In a primary where most of the Republican candidates share similar views, those are probably questions for a later day. That is, for the general election, should Rubio or Cruz emerge as the GOP nominee.
Still, substance usually matters in the end.
Which is to say this:
As inspiring as it is to see Republicans embracing diverse political champions, it may be that some of the party’s tattered tenets need to reflect the modern world as well.