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Commentary: Is Rubio the magic elixir that Republicans think?

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SAN DIEGO -- Republicans think that Marco Rubio is a sort of magic elixir that can instantly cure what ails them.

And what is this ailment? It's the fact that many Latinos -- especially Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who represent more than two-thirds of the Hispanic population -- consider the GOP to be hostile to their presence in America.

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Oh, is that all?

A recent survey by impreMedia and Latino Decisions found that nearly three out of four Latino voters consider Republicans either indifferent to Latinos or overtly antagonistic.

We did not get here by accident. Republicans -- in statehouses, in Congress, and on the campaign trail for president -- have gone out of their way to rattle Latino voters with their immigration views.

I don't know which is worse -- that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been so relentless in alienating Latinos or that his supporters think so little of this constituency that they assume Romney could quickly smooth things over by making Rubio his running mate.

I'm surprised we're even discussing it. Rubio has about the same level of experience to be vice president that Barack Obama had to be president -- which is very little. And look how well that turned out. In fact, Republicans are so confident the country took a wrong turn in electing someone who was young and inexperienced that now they're thinking about putting on the ticket someone who is even younger with less experience?

There are even doubts about Rubio's value to the ticket. Just because Florida's junior senator is, for many Republicans, the most popular Hispanic since Desi Arnaz got his band together doesn't mean the Cuban-Americans can help Romney and the Republicans make peace with Hispanics, many of whom are -- according to the survey -- not members of Rubio's fan club.

Even if Rubio were to become the Republican vice presidential nominee, only 13 percent of Latinos said it would make them "much more likely" to vote for the GOP ticket. Only 11 percent would be "somewhat more likely." Forty-six percent said it would have "no effect" on their vote.

Yet, consider this: 10 percent of Latinos said putting Rubio on the ticket would actually make them "much less likely" to vote Republican. That's a sizable chunk of the electorate to sacrifice right out of the chute, especially coming from a constituency that you're trying to attract.

Rubio, the GOP's rock star, has been in the Senate, and on the national stage, for just a year. What could he have done wrong? Quite a bit actually.

He looked craven when he partnered with Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas in co-sponsoring a bill to require that all employers use the federal government's E-Verify program -- which is supposed to determine eligible workers by confirming Social Security numbers -- only to have Smith give in to business interests by granting extensions on the requirement and later proposing additional legislation to bring in foreign workers.

Rubio looked like a flip-flopper when he came out in favor of Arizona's tough immigration law after he first came out against it, and he looked like a lawyer who didn't know the law when a string of federal judges struck down portions of the measure.

He looked cruel when he opposed the DREAM Act, which would have given the undocumented legal status if they attended college or joined the military, and he looked dishonest when he dismissed the bill as an amnesty when it's a quid pro quo.

More recently, he looked silly when he put his parents on a pedestal by labeling them "exiles" when actually they came to the United States before Fidel Castro took power and so they were immigrants after all.

These are mistakes that many Latinos won't soon forget.

Rubio would likely do well with Cuban-Americans, but Republicans would get most of those voters anyway. He won't be as helpful in spreading the GOP's message among other Latinos, who could account for as many as 12 million voters in November, estimates the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Those voters will likely include not just Mexican-Americans and Cuban-Americans but also people who trace their ancestry to Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and many other Latin American countries.

Something for Team Romney to keep in mind as it goes about courting Rubio to bring in the votes of a group that isn't particularly fond of him: Latinos may be international. But they're not interchangeable.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is rnavarrette@wctrib.com.

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