Rubio as Trump’s running mate could draw some Latino voters, but it’s not a sure bet

Rubio as Trump’s running mate could draw some Latino voters, but it’s not a sure bet

If Donald Trump chooses Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the fluent Spanish-speaking son of Cuban immigrants, as his running mate, Rubio would make history as the first Latino vice presidential nominee — and he’d also be taking a final step in his conversion from Trump antagonist to loyalist

The question behind the choice would be whether Rubio, the Cuban American son of a bartender and a hotel maid, and his storied political ascent can mobilize a segment of Latino and other voters toward the Trump ticket. 

Although Trump gained Latino votes in 2020 compared to 2016, he was still rejected by almost two-thirds of Latino voters in his last presidential election. Polls suggest Trump has gained more Latino support this year.

Manuel Tapia, 54, an optician and Air Force veteran in Tucson, Arizona, who already plans to vote for Trump, said “it means a great deal” to have a Latino on the ticket with Trump. 

“I think the community and the whole country will be in better hands. … They can combine their beliefs and their upbringing and come together and make something better for everybody, not just one-sided,” Tapia, who voted for Trump in 2016 and in 2020, said about a Trump-Rubio ticket. 

Rubio’s ability to campaign fluidly in English and Spanish would be a major asset, said Giancarlo Sopo, a communication strategist who worked on Hispanic media strategy for Trump in 2020 but isn’t involved in this year’s campaign. 

“Republicans are making big gains with English-dominant Latinos; where they tend to struggle more is with the Hispanics whose primary sources of news are Spanish-language media outlets,” Sopo said. Democrats had a 40-percentage-point advantage among Latinos who get their news in Spanish and a 13-point advantage with those who get it in English, he said, citing a poll he conducted on behalf of Republican groups in October 2022. 

Although Trump turned out new Latino voters in 2020, the GOP didn’t record similar gains in Latino voters in the midterms, said Bernard Fraga, an Emory University political science professor and author of “The Turnout Gap.”

Rubio’s presence on the ticket could bring out Latinos who would otherwise stay home, Fraga said. 

According to The Associated Press, more than half of Latino voters in Florida voted for Rubio and Gov. Ron DeSantis in the 2022 midterms. In 2020, Trump got less than half (46%) of Florida’s Latino vote.

The many new, young and uncommitted voters in the ranks of the Latino electorate — 36.2 million Hispanics are eligible to vote this year — give Rubio room to woo voters with his heritage and family story, his Christian faith and his expertise in foreign policy, taxes and other topics. 

“For Rubio, it’s a story of mobilizing Latino Republicans. He’s not going to convert a lot of people, but he might build even more enthusiasm and make Republicans’ jobs even easier in terms of convincing Latinos that the party cares about them,” Fraga said. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in West Palm Beach, Fla. on June 14, 2024.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in West Palm Beach, Fla. on June 14, 2024.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Jason Villalba, chairman and CEO of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, who left the GOP and now says he’s independent, said Rubio could temper the ticket for some Republicans.

“If Rubio is on that ticket, it gives me some comfort, because I know that even with the MAGA veneer Rubio has to wear, he certainly is a thoughtful, articulate presence on that ticket that could resonate with some folks,” Villalba said. 

Can cultural pride trump Trump? 

While Rubio’s background may be a point of pride for some Latinos, that doesn’t mean it would translate to votes. 

Marcel Lopez, 20, a student at Arizona State University who is Mexican American, said it’s “cool” to have Latinos “up there, you know, closer and closer to the presidential spot. I mean, the vice president is as close as you get without actually being president.” 

But for him, Trump’s felony conviction overshadows Rubio’s presence on the ticket. It would be “neat” for Rubio to be picked, “but is that going to affect my vote? Probably not.” 

Dina Ramirez-Crump, 50, a mammography technician in Tucson who is Mexican American, said Rubio’s presence on the ticket wouldn’t change her mind about supporting President Joe Biden and probably wouldn’t change other Latino voters’ minds. She voted for Biden in 2020 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

“He has not stood his ground as far as representing the Latino community,” Ramirez-Crump said of Rubio. “He’s been very flip-floppy with the people. … He’ll vote one way and then changed his mind. … It’s just anything to serve his purpose, to serve his needs, is all he cares about.” 

Rubio’s position changes are being more scrutinized now that he’s on the running mate shortlist. He once said the media, voters and people on the right would one day have to explain and justify “how they fell into this trap of supporting Trump.” But he has since dismissed his past criticisms as the stuff of campaigns. 

Rubio was among the senators who voted to certify Biden’s 2020 election, despite Trump’s attempts to overturn the results and his lies about stolen 2020 elections. Recently, Rubio has refused to say whether he will commit to accept the 2024 election results, echoing Trump.

In a recent Noticias Telemundo interview, Rubio said Trump’s Hitler-like statement that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country was just “a saying he uses,” not a reflection of his views on race — a stark evolution from when Rubio declared Trump’s infamous 2015 comments about Mexicans as “criminals” and “rapists” were “divisive” and “offensive.”  

José Dante Parra is a Democratic strategist who oversaw Latino outreach for Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, helping secure Reid’s turnaround 2010 re-election. He said that a Hispanic surname on the GOP ticket would definitely help Republicans but that “I think he can be neutralized if [Democrats] show his true colors.”

“They have to define him as someone who has been spineless, as someone who will be with the community or against the community depending on where the political winds blow for him,” Parra said.

“The most obvious example is his current position on immigration,” said Parra, adding that Rubio now aligns with Trump after having sponsored the 2013 immigration bill, which would have doubled Border Patrol agents and provided millions of people in the country illegally with a way to earn legal status.

Though Rubio once called Trump’s plans for mass deportations “unrealistic,” he recently told NBC News that he supports Trump’s pledge to conduct the largest mass deportation in American history and to use military and local law enforcement to do it. 

Republican Marlon Gonzalez, 34, a Central Florida resident who canvassed for Trump in Orlando in 2020, said that though he thinks Rubio has all the credentials for the job, his vice presidential preference is Sen. JD Vance of Ohio because he doesn’t trust Rubio to be faithful to Trump. 

“That’s one of the things that I’m a little worried about,” Gonzalez said, “that he could be seen as kind of a quitter when things don’t go right.”   

Victor Martinez, a radio show host who owns several Pennsylvania radio stations, said he thinks Rubio’s reach in the Latino community is limited outside Florida. He also said that among some of Pennsylvania’s Puerto Ricans — who are the majority of the state’s Latino eligible voters — there are mixed feelings: Though Rubio has long supported statehood for Puerto Rico, he also said several years ago that there wasn’t enough support yet in the Senate and that statehood “can wait,” which upset some statehood supporters.  

That stance “doesn’t help him,” Martinez said. 

But Democrat Michael La Rosa, a native Pennsylvanian who was a Biden special assistant and a press secretary for Jill Biden, wrote in a recent New York Times opinion article that Rubio is the Republican vice presidential pick who scares him the most, because he would be able to tap into cultural pride and transcend ideological and partisan differences.

Tapia, the optician in Tucson, said he thinks Rubio would help the Republican ticket. 

“I think that when people realize that this gentleman is coming in to help Trump,” he said, “it’s going to make a huge difference.”

Suzanne Gamboa

Suzanne Gamboa is a national reporter for NBC Latino and

Alex Tabet

Alex Tabet is a 2024 NBC News campaign embed.

Nicole Acevedo

Nicole Acevedo is a reporter for NBC News Digital. She reports, writes and produces stories for NBC Latino and

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