CRUZ: (SPEAKING SPANISH). At the GOP Debate, Cruz goes bilingual on Rubio

Good morning Austin.

And buenos días Señor Cruz.

Great debate last night.

That’s entertainment.

Reality TV at its finest. No wonder Donald Trump’s doing so well.

Compelling characters. Running feuds. A brutal elimination process winnowing the field, and having voters in a motley order of states do the judging is a brilliant touch.

Last night’s may have been the best, with all the “you lie, you lyin’ liar” line of fire – mostly coming from Trump and Marco Rubio and aimed at Ted Cruz; with Trump blaming 9/11 on W and Jeb!, looking like he actually belonged center stage and with sounded like a stacked audiecne, defending every member of his family except George P.

Who am I missing?

Of course.

Carson last night offered an apparently spurious quote from Stalin, which was, true or false, quaint, and that segued into the impeccably dreamy logic that could propel him back into contention.

Joseph Stalin said if you want to bring America down you, have to undermine three things: our spiritual life, our patriotism and our morality. We, the people, can stop that decline, starting right here in South Carolina. If all the people who say, “I love Ben Carson and his policies, but he can’t win,” vote for me, not only can we win, but we can turn this thing around.

And then there’s John Kasich, the brother from another planet, who is the kind of control in whatever social experiment is being conducted here –  the normal guy, the Marilyn Munster of the show, who can break through the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience.

As in, from the middle of last night’s melee, this:

KASICH: I’ve got to tell you, this is just crazy, huh?

(LAUGHTER)

KASICH: This is just nuts, O.K.? Jeez, oh, man.

But my very favorite exchange of the debate was this one between Cruz and Rubio, the two lean and hungry Cuban-Americans in the race.

 

CRUZ: You know, the lines are very, very clear. Marco right now supports citizenship for 12 million people here illegally. I oppose citizenship. Marco stood on the debate stage and said that.

But I would note not only that — Marco has a long record when it comes to amnesty. In the state of Florida, as speaker of the house, he supported in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. In addition to that, Marco went on Univision in Spanish and said he would not rescind President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty on his first day in office.

I have promised to rescind every single illegal executive action, including that one.

(MIX OF APPLAUSE AND BOOING)

CRUZ: And on the question…

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: Well, first of all, I don’t know how he knows what I said on Univision, because he doesn’t speak Spanish. And second of all, the other point that I would make…

CRUZ: (SPEAKING SPANISH).

CRUZ: (SPEAKING SPANISH).

What a great moment.

Here was my initial take last night.

Here, in answer to that, from Time.

Cruz then responded in Spanish, taunting Rubio. “Ahora mismo, díselo en Español si tu quieres” the Senator from Texas said, which roughly translates to “Right now, say it in Spanish. If you want.”

Here are some other tweeted reactions.

As you can see, it is not at all clear who got the better of this.

My own thinking has evolved a bit since last night.

At the moment it happened, I thought Cruz had by far the better of it.

He got called out for not being able to speak Spanish by Rubio, he let loose with some Spanish. So there.

I couldn’t really hear what he said, only that he had said something, that it was in some kind of Spanish, and that he had scored a vivid debating point at a very high-profile debate.

But, over time, I wondered whether it was too clever and glib.

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Cruz started this. In the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, Cruz began delivering a a sneaky attack line on Rubio in rural iowa.

“Marco Rubio has gone on Univision and said in Spanish, ‘No, no, no, I wouldn’t rescind amnesty.”

It’s a way of not only saying that Rubio is soft on immigration, but also insinuating that he is saying one thing in English and another in Spanish to try to bamboozle monolingual Anglos, and calling attention to the fact that Rubio is the Cuban-American Republican in the race who speaks Spanish, which in a party that doesn’t like to have to press one for English, is automatic cause for suspicion and irritation.

It’s a politic line of attack that probably works to Cruz’s advantage in the Republican nomination battle, but is further evidence why, in a general election, Rubio might be able to cut into Democratic majorities with Hispanic voters, and I don’t think Cruz can.

Glenn Beck has come to introducing Cruz at rallies as the man who will be the first Hispanic president of the United States, and it kind of falls flat because I don’t think either Cruz or his audience think that that figures importantly, if at all, in what he is about.

Here from Lizette Alvarez and Manny Fernandez in the New York Times some very good background on the relative Hispanic identities of Cruz and Rubio.

MIAMI — One candidate, Marco Rubio, nurtured by the sprawling Cuban-American community here, bounces effortlessly between two cultures — fritas and hamburgers, Spanish and English — in a city so comfortably bilingual that news conferences pivot between the languages.

The other, Ted Cruz, is partial to cowboy boots, oversize belt buckles, hard-right politics and the fire-and-brimstone style of the Baptist church. Mr. Cruz, a rare Cuban-American outlier in a state where Hispanic usually means Mexican-American, attended overwhelmingly white Christian schools in Houston and prefers Spanglish to Spanish.

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For Mr. Rubio, assimilation meant embracing his American and Cuban sides with equal gusto. Celebrating Noche Buena with lechon asado — Christmas Eve with marinated pork — and then watching the Miami Dolphins on New Year’s Day. Speaking Spanish on Univision, English on Fox. Riffing on rap and dancing to Cuban music.

Papá, his grandfather, who tended to Mr. Rubio’s Cuban side during the family’s six years in Las Vegas, made an endless stream of cafecitos, or Cuban coffee, told him about Cuban history and had Mr. Rubio read a Spanish-language newspaper aloud so “I would learn to speak his native language correctly,” Mr. Rubio wrote.

Nelson Diaz, a former aide to Mr. Rubio and now the chairman of the Republican Party in Miami-Dade County, said of Mr. Rubio: “He is American 100 percent, but he is very in touch with his Cuban background.”

In West Miami, where Mr. Rubio began his political career and lives surrounded by Hispanic immigrants, he showed his cultural dexterity at a recent rally by joking that he would bring a Cuban pork roasting box to Washington. “Vamos a llevar una Caja China a la Casa Blanca,” Mr. Rubio said. His wife, Jeanette, who is Colombian-American, stood nearby.

It is this version of Mr. Rubio that has drawn Latinos to his corner, even as his tap dance on immigration continues to dampen enthusiasm. “He clearly understands and has lived the story of the immigrant,” said Javier Palomarez, the president of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Marco gets it.”

With so many here touched by the vagaries of immigration policy, most in Miami want to improve the law. Recognizing this, Mr. Rubio joined Democrats in writing an immigration reform bill in 2013 that created a path to citizenship and fortified border security. For this, Mr. Rubio earned widespread praise.

After fierce backlash from conservatives and Tea Party supporters, though, Mr. Rubio quickly distanced himself from the bill and moved to emphasize border security and enforcement as a priority. This angered Hispanics who viewed it as an attempt to placate the conservative base. They also have criticized Mr. Rubio for failing to defend Latinos more robustly from Mr. Trump’s attacks.

Mr. Cruz, who unlike Mr. Rubio won his Senate seat with relatively tepid Latino support, faces an even more arduous task wooing Latino voters. His positions on immigration and his reluctance to embrace his Latino roots have hurt him among Hispanics from both parties, political experts said. Mr. Cruz supports squeezing out undocumented immigrants by tightening enforcement, temporarily freezing immigration levels and changing the 14th Amendment to end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Even Latino Republicans have been unsparing in their criticism of Mr. Cruz.

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In his autobiography, “A Time for Truth,” published in 2015, Mr. Cruz described how, growing up, Rafael turned into Rafaelito and then Felito. “The problem with that name was that it seemed to rhyme with every major corn chip on the market,” Mr. Cruz wrote. “Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos and Tostitos — a fact that other young children were quite happy to point out.”

His preference for Ted, a suggestion from Mr. Cruz’s Irish-American mother, infuriated his father, Rafael, who in 1957 fled Cuba for Texas after being arrested and beaten by agents for Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator. “He viewed it as a rejection of him and his heritage, which was not my intention,” Mr. Cruz wrote. For two years, his father refused to call him Ted. Today, Mr. Cruz serves as his son’s Spanish-speaking surrogate.

The name change is but one example of how Mr. Cruz has de-emphasized his Latino identity. Unlike Mr. Rubio, Mr. Cruz had only his father and a few relatives to connect him to the island, its language and traditions. Once his father became a born-again Christian, religion, not ethnicity, appeared to dominate the Cruz household.

Interrogating this subject can also go terribly wrong, as here, from Bloomberg.

Mark Halperin subsequently issued a mea culpa about the interview.

We wanted to talk with Senator Cruz about his outreach to Latino voters the day after he spoke at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. My intent was to give the Senator a chance to speak further about his heritage and personal connections to the community through some casual questions. I rushed through the questions, and that was a mistake — it led to poor tone and timing. I also understand why some felt the questions were inappropriate. As for asking Senator Cruz to welcome Senator Sanders to the race in Spanish, that was meant to be the type of light-hearted banter that he’s done with us before on the show. In no way was I asking Senator Cruz to “prove” he was an “authentic” Latino. I apologize to those that were offended, and to Senator Cruz. I promise that I will work to make the tone and questions better next time.

Finally, Jannell Rose at the Washington Post, offered a really excellent breakdown of all that was really at play last night when Cruz spoke Spanish.

There is a dark period in American history. It’s one to which some Americans seem eager to return. It’s one when people were barred, shamed or even punished for speaking languages other than English. That was especially true outside the home.

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It is nothing to celebrate. It has left the United States far behind other countries in terms of the share of adults who can operate in two languages or more. Millions of Americans who could have grown up speaking any number of languages and reaping the brain-boosting benefits — simply didn’t.

Now what, you ask, does that have to do with a heated moment during Saturday’s Republican debate in which Ted Cruz started speaking Spanish?

Well, possibly, quite a lot. Cruz may have been born in Canada — much to Donald Trump’s delight — but he grew up in Texas during the final decades when the ideas described above could be repeated in public without so much as a single side eye. Cruz has said before that his Spanish is “lousy,” and back in 2012 when Cruz was running for the Senate, his Spanish-speaking opponent tried to needle Cruz into a Spanish-language debate.

Cruz refused, saying something that lots of Texas Republicans seemed to like: Most people don’t speak Spanish. The goal was probably to throw the championship debater, Cruz, off his game, but also to associate Cruz with a particularly modern kind of alleged cultural failing. Cruz’s opponent knew that might have meaning in a state with a lot of Latino voters.

The inability to speak fluent Spanish has become a source of embarrassment for some Latinos. Sometimes, that’s the subject of something a little more serious than teasing. There are some — emphasis on some here — Spanish-speaking Latinos who regard the inability to speak Spanish as an indicator of capitulation to old-school, self-loathing, and bigotry-fueled pressure to assimilate by emulating white Americans.

Now, some things in American life have so changed that, for many months, there were more than a few Republican politicos who regularly insisted that the ability of former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) — the white son and brother of a former president who is married to a Mexican-American — to speak Spanish was going to help him win a big chunk of the Latino vote.

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Rubio almost certainly knows all about the full array of fraught social, political and emotional issues that rotate around Spanish-speaking skills for some Latinos. He almost certainly heard about that most-awkward and, shall we say, ill-advised moment back in May when Bloomberg’s Mark Halprin tried to force Cruz to speak Spanish on demand during an interview. Halprin seemed to think Cruz should prove his Latino bona fides.

And, Rubio, like Cruz’s Senate challenger, probably saw it as a great way to throw Cruz, the master debater, off-kilter and maybe even to change the subject. They were, after all, tangling on a debate stage on one of the issues about which pooling data indicates a goodly portion of Republican voters may have some doubts about Rubio. He is not a solid immigration hard-liner.

Likely sensing some of all of this, Cruz absolutely clapped back. This is something he’s been goaded about and even criticized for in the past.

The only real surprise was that Cruz’s reply came quick. And, it came out in Spanish.

“Marco, si quieres … ahora el mismo, dicelo ahora, en Espanol, si quieres.” (That translates roughly to  “Marco, if you want … right now, say it right now, in Spanish, if you want.”)

So, we’re going to have to be frank and tell those of you who don’t speak Spanish that what Cruz said was the kind of grammatically unorthodox thing you might say when flustered, when non-fluent and or when trying intentionally to sound tough. We can’t say for sure which of those three really dominated Cruz’s response here. Only Cruz really knows.

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For now, we’ll leave you with this: America, this was one of those moments full of history and emotion and deep social meaning that a good portion of the audience likely did not fully comprehend. But, it’s worth noting because that entire exchange was made possible by decades of misguided, scientifically unsound and bigoted thinking that plenty of Americans continue to laud every day.

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