When Jeb Bush was governor, Florida was roiled with the kind of debate that happens only in Deep South states with long histories of Civil War strife and segregation. As activists pushed for Florida to stop flying the Confederate flag — a symbol of racism to many African-Americans — Bush found a middle ground: He ordered the flag flown only at museums.
After a massacre in Charleston last week at the hands of a white supremacist, that same debate has now gone national. And unlike his fellow presidential contender, Marco Rubio hasn't been able to find a middle ground. In fact, he's all but refused to answer what he'd do about the Confederate flag still flying over South Carolina's capitol.
"I think it's important to let the people of South Carolina to move forward on it," Rubio told reporters in Miami this past Saturday.
Asked what he thought they should decide, Rubio hemmed and hawed like a pro. He supported Jeb's move in Florida, he said — even though he cosponsored a bill to protect Confederate flags in public places — but said he'd never be such a bully as to demand that South Carolina do the same.
"I have confidence in their ability to deal with the issue," was the most he could muster.
Other Republicans haven't been so wishy-washy. Mitt Romney said over the weekend that the Confederate flags should come down. Jeb Bush, leaning on his move as governor, said the same:
But here's Rubio's full transcript on the Confederate question. Not even Rick Scott could dodge a question with this kind of verve:
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Aside from being a Grade-A, textbook example of political dodging, Rubio's slippery answers hit at a deeper problem for his party.
The GOP could win a national election next year only by broadening its base to include America's growing minority population. But the Republicans have spent decades pandering to exactly the type of far-right-base voters who might abandon a candidate who comes out strongly against Confederate flags at state capitols.
Rubio has clearly decided — along with fellow hemmers-and-hawers Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz — that the safest path lies in taking no stance at all.