R.S. McCain reports, you decide. Here’s a good test of Rubio’s grassroots cred: Can you employ a man who’s trying to tilt the electoral pinball machine towards Romney’s nomination and still retain pride of place as a “tea-party icon”?

GOP sources in Washington and Florida say that Rubio’s senatorial chief of staff, Cesar Conda, has been a major force in persuading Florida Republicans to move their primary to January.

“Cesar used to be with Romney’s campaign,” one informed source explained to me in an interview today, adding: “Conda used his contacts to push the primary to the 31st because they want Romney in.”…

Some have speculated that, by delivering Florida for Romney, Conda would not only help Romney lock up the 2012 presidential nomination, but also secure the 2012 vice-presidential pick for Rubio…

Reports that Rubio — or at least Rubio’s top aides – are working behind the scenes for Romney, who is seen as representing the RINO (“Republican In Name Only”) moderate wing of the party, will be a bitter disappointment for conservatives who supported Rubio’s insurgent campaign last year. Many Tea Party activists who backed Rubio against Crist in the 2010 primary are now supporting Cain, the conservative Atlanta businessman who has surged to the front of the the Republican presidential pack in the past three weeks.

Read Politico’s backgrounder from 10 days ago about the many, many staff links between the Romney and Rubio campaigns for context. If Conda’s pushing hard to give Romney a leg up, the obvious conclusion is that he’s doing so either with Rubio’s blessing or with no objection. So bright a prospect is Rubio himself — the Stephen Strasburg of the GOP, if you will — that he’s literally the only icon in the conservative firmament I can think of who might be able to get away with shilling for Romney. Christie can get away with it because most grassroots righties already suspect he’s a RINO, but Rubio is an almost mortal lock to be the nominee down the road, so he’s sacrosanct. Or is he?

Before you answer that question, two videos for you to watch. The first, a flashback, comes from Reason, the second comes from RCP. Click the second image to watch.

Update: A source close to Rubio e-mailed us to note that Florida’s primary date is chosen by committee. He emphatically denies that either Cesar Conda or Rubio himself influenced the process.