For me anyway, this remarkable exchange between Cruz and Rubio was one of the most revealing moments of last night's debate. But, in order to fully appreciate just how meaningful this was, it helps to know the background. Both men are the sons of Cuban immigrants, and presumably know how to speak Spanish, but neither one really identifies with being Hispanic at least not in the context of this presidential contest they are both competing in. Cruz was born Rafael Edward Cruz, but dropped the Rafael in favor of Ted when he was a teenager. He married an Anglo woman named Heidi Suzanne Nelson, and the couple's two daughters are named Caroline and Catherine respectively. Unlike Cruz, Rubio saw no need to change his first name to something less overtly ethnic. His wife Jeanette is the daughter of Colombian immigrants. She also worked as a Miami Dolphins cheerleader, which is something I wasn't previously aware of. The couple have four children: Daniella, Amanda, Dominick, and Anthony. And, like the name Marco, those names all have a distinctly Italian flavor.
None of the first three states in the GOP primary process have significant number of Hispanic voters, but that will not be the case moving forward. So it stands to reason that all of the campaigns, with the likely exception of the Trump campaign, will be trying to appeal to Hispanics in states where they are heavily represented. Jeb Bush is married to a Mexican-American woman, and is fluent in her native language. And when he launched his campaign, Bush did so in English and Spanish, and seemed poised to make his command of the language a centerpiece of his campaign. Only to find himself mocked by front-runner Donald Trump, someone who has relentlessly demonized Hispanics in his own campaign. Jeb got the message loud and clear. Both Cruz and Rubio would seem to be uniquely qualified to appeal to Hispanic voters, given that they can communicate in Spanish, but it isn't quite that simple.
Ted Cruz has been quoted as saying that his Spanish is "lousy", and when a Spanish-speaking opponent challenged him to a debate in Spanish during the 2012 Texas Senate race, Cruz wouldn't take the bait. And last night was probably the first time that Cruz has spoken Spanish during this campaign. Without a doubt, Rubio was attacking his rival's credentials as a legitimate Latino and Cruz got so rattled that he actually started speaking Spanish. And, as you watch the video, you can almost see the wheels turning in Rubio's head as Cruz accuses him of speaking Spanish on Univision. A wide smile spreads across his face as Marco realizes that his opponent has just handed him an early Valentine's Day gift.