Is Obama getting the last laugh on Cuba?

President Obama’s announcement regarding rapprochement with Cuba has quickly turned into a political bone of contention, not only between liberals and conservatives, but inside of the Republican party as well. One of the battle lines which quickly formed up was between Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. The press is having a field day with it, but where is the public coming down on the question? Some of the first polling in the wake of Obama’s decision shows that the President may have finally hit on something on which voters are willing to give him a passing grade.

President Obama can take solace in the latest poll numbers. More than half of Americans say they favor reestablishing diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, a new CBS News poll finds.

Overall, 54 percent of those surveyed said they approve of the decision to normalize relations with the island nation, while 28 percent said they disapproved, and 18 indicated that they didn’t know whether the move was a good idea.

Even on the party line breakdown, 67% self identified Republicans disapproved of the measure, but that leaves a fair number who are willing to take a look at the proposal. The broad question of “normalization of relations” covers a lot of ground and pulls in complicated foreign policy debates. But when you strip away the high end diplomatic issues and just ask voters if they think Americans should be allowed to freely travel back and forth to Cuba, the numbers become considerably more stark.

The poll did contain one rather striking point of partisan agreement. When asked whether Americans should be allowed to travel to Cuba, a stark majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents answered a resounding “yes.” Two-thirds of Republicans said Cuba travel should be allowed while 29 percent said it should remain off-limits. Independents favored lifting the travel ban by a margin of 77—14 percent, and Democrats applauded the idea of a Cuban vacation by a margin of 86—11 percent.

That brings up some important questions for the presidential election cycle and this is turning into a clear danger signal for the GOP. The public’s approval of the policies of the President (and Democrats in general) has pretty much been in the toilet over the last couple of years, as evidenced by the results of the midterm elections. And while topics such as Obamacare, the IRS and oppressive regulations weigh heavily on the minds of voters, there is little doubt that foreign policy will be a huge factor the next time they go to the polls.

Most of these questions center on ISIS and other terror groups, as well as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. In these areas, Obama once again receives low marks. But the Cuba question hits close to home for many Americans, including those in key swing states such as Florida. I would expect Democrats to try to make hay over this in the coming months, particularly if they sell the message well enough. Trends have been heading in the right direction for the GOP lately and the last thing they need is a fresh issue where they “come down on the wrong side of history.” Candidates at all levels had best keep an eye on these numbers when figuring out how to talk about Cuba in 2015 because too much of a hard line on the subject isn’t going to play well if these numbers hold up during the upcoming public debates.

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David Strom 8:41 PM on January 30, 2023