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Jonathan Bernstein

Marco Rubio Can't Lose by Opposing Cuba Shift

The safest place in a Republican nomination battle is always on the side of those who oppose the Democratic president.
Scoring points for 2016.

Scoring points for 2016.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

An  argument is raging over whether leading the opposition to President Barack Obama’s Cuba policy is good electoral politics for Senator Marco Rubio. Dan Larison and Michael Tomasky have argued that the Florida Republican, who is Cuban-American, isn’t helping himself by taking a strong pro-embargo, anti-normalization stance; Greg Sargent and View’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin argue that Obama’s decision to change policy is a “gift” to Rubio. It’s a good discussion to have, because it helps understand how policy issues play out in elections.

Larison focuses on general-election effects, especially if Rubio winds up seeking re-election in 2016, and notes that Cuba normalization polls well. That may be true. But just because a policy polls well doesn’t mean it will help candidates who support it. For one thing, most people don’t really care much about most policy issues, even though they’ll answer survey questions. For another, it’s likely that the issue will have died down by fall 2016, even in Florida, and most voters won’t even remember what Rubio did.