Only a first-term senator, Marco Rubio has swiftly reached prominence in national politics. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has confirmed that Rubio is being vetted as a potential vice presidential running mate. In An American Son, the 41-year-old Florida senator describes the path that brought him to Washington. Rubio recently spoke with U.S. News about his family, immigration reform, and what the GOP needs to do to attract Latino voters. Excerpts:
Who has had the most influence in shaping your worldview?
My grandfather, who brought to our conversation his experience growing up in rural Cuba, growing up during World War II. He was a disabled man who had lost the use of one of his legs as a child because of polio and he really struggled to provide for his family. He came to the United States, returned to Cuba in the hopes that the Castro revolution meant a better future, found out that wasn't the case, had to come back to the United States. And really believed that a strong America was the only thing that prevented communism from spreading to other countries.
Why did you get into politics?
Well, I think [my grandfather] influenced me because he loved to talk about history, and of course history always drove us to talking about politics and public figures. And I think maybe that ingrained in me at a young age how you could make a difference at the political level. And obviously I was born with some sort of natural inclination for it as well, but I think he helped reinforce it.
How do you define conservatism?
I think conservatism in the United States is the belief in that balance—making sure that government isn't doing too much and also isn't doing too little. When government fails to do its proper role, you border on anarchy and you have a country that can't blossom and grow. But when government does too much, even if it's doing it for the right reasons and motivated by compassion, it ends up crowding out those other institutions in society that could do a better job of it.
Do you identify with the Tea Party?
I do. You know, the Tea Party movement is not a partisan movement. Many of those folks are just as mad at Republicans as they are at Democrats. These are everyday people from all walks of life who are frustrated at the direction of government. And I think that sentiment has been around for a long time. But not until social media allowed anyone to be an organizer could it really come together in a movement like the Tea Party.
Why do most Latinos vote Democratic?
I think a lot of it is based on where you live. For example, Cuban-Americans who moved to Miami are disproportionately Republican, but the ones that moved to New Jersey are disproportionately Democrat. So I just think a lot of it depends on where you grow up, what you grow up around, and what the predominant politics is in the community that you are involved in. I think that evens out over time. People move, people become more entrepreneurial, and more upwardly mobile.
What does the Republican Party need to change to win over more Latinos?
First of all, we need to be the pro-legal immigration party; we can't just be the anti-illegal immigration party. We believe that immigration is important for our country. A million people a year immigrate legally to the United States. And there are millions of others that are waiting to come legally. And our message to them cannot be 'Come illegally, because it's cheaper and quicker.' I think we also have to recognize that the people who are here illegally and undocumented are human beings, most of whom are doing exactly what many of us would do if our children were hungry and our families were desperate.
Why hasn't there been immigration reform?
Because it's highly politicized. I think both sides, but particularly the left has concluded that it's more valuable unsolved than it is to come to some sort of agreement.