“[T]he agreement the Obama Administration has entered into with the Castro regime has done nothing to resolve the underlying problem. Indeed, it has made it worse.” – U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), December 17, 2014
“The power of free expression, free movement, and free markets is much more likely to advance Cuba toward freedom than the failed policy of isolation.” – U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), December 18, 2014
“Concession to a tyranny.” – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), December 17, 2014
“If the goal is regime change, [the embargo] sure doesn’t seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship.” – U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), December 18, 2014
Immediately following this announcement, which came in the wake of a prisoner exchange between the two countries, some Republicans came out and vehemently opposed the policy shift. Most notably, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio (both sons of Cuban immigrants) made the media rounds to talk about how President Obama has appeased the nation’s enemies once again.
However, this is an issue that not all Republicans are in an agreement on and can even be considered a major wedge issue that has lied dormant until Obama’s announcement. Rand Paul, for instance, is the first potential Republican presidential candidate to speak positively of the policy shift.
Additionally, Republican U.S. Representative Justin Amash, who is known best for his willingness to look beyond the party line and his efforts to increase transparency in Congress by posting his votes on social media, spoke in favor of the policy shift in a Facebook status update.
“I support the announced shift from isolationism to a more pragmatic engagement with Cuba. The Cuban people have the right to govern themselves and deserve to live in a country that is ruled by law, not the whim of a dictator. We can more readily help Cubans establish liberty through policies that open dialogue, travel, and trade.” – U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.)
Consider what all has transpired since the midterm elections. President Obama has taken strong stances on issues like net neutrality, immigration, and now the embargo on Cuba. All of these topics are major wedge issues within the Republican Party and the actions the president has taken have coerced a response from some very outspoken Republicans, some of whom have future presidential ambitions.
Paul will most certainly run for president in 2016 and some have suggested that Cruz may make a run for the Oval Office as well. However, they are incorporating two different strategies going into the presidential election year. Cruz is sticking to his hardline stance against Obama’s policies while Paul is attempting to hold on to the libertarian-esque principles that have broad support within the electorate and accomodate more Republicans at the same time.
In an article published on Wednesday, IVN contributor and author Michael Austin said Obama is the only president who can go to Cuba if the nation is going to shift its policy toward the country. Why? Mostly because politically Obama has nothing to lose.
“In his last two years in office, Barack Obama is politically unpressurable. He will never run for anything again. He has already lost the House and the Senate. And he knows that the current Congress will work tirelessly to frustrate and embarrass him in any way that they possibly can. And since a substantial portion of the country already believes that he is a Kenyan-born Muslim terrorist who drinks the blood of young children, being called “soft on communism” is just not that big of a deal. He has nothing to gain by avoiding controversy.” – Michael Austin, “Only Obama Can Go to Cuba”
This is getting to the heart of the politics behind Obama’s decisions lately, but there is something even deeper going on. It is about politics, but there is more to it.
Obama has unfinished business that has no shot of getting through a Republican-controlled Congress, he has a legacy to solidify, the prisoner exchange offered the best opening for diplomatic talks with Cuba, and there is something else no one is talking about: Obama is looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election.
Creating division in the GOP, which will most certainly surface in the Republican presidential primary, will keep candidates who might appeal to voters outside the party’s base, like Rand Paul, from getting the nomination — something the Democratic Party wants. Democrats don’t want the GOP to nominate a candidate who is increasingly more popular with minority voters, Millennials, independents, cross-party voters, and other segments of the electorate the Democrats need to assure victory.
Sure, Obama may want to get done everything he thinks he can get done in the next two years without congressional approval to build his legacy. However, it cannot be ignored that the issues the president is acting most aggressively on are also issues that create a wedge in the Republican Party, and he is acting on these issues before the 2016 presidential election begins.