I hope you guys appreciate how hard he’s been pandering to you lately. Because he’s pandering awfully hard.

This reminds me of the debate before the 2012 primaries got rolling over whether Romney should repudiate RomneyCare. Lots of righties said yes, definitely. He’s got to get that monkey off his back; otherwise he’ll be vulnerable in facing an ObamaCare-hating electorate. I thought he was right to stand by it for the simple reason that he already had so many flip-flops to his record, another one — a big one — could be fatal. It would prove that there’s nothing, up to and including his signature “achievement” as governor, that he wouldn’t abandon to protect his own electability. Better to be a RINO who stands on principle than a guy who’ll always pander, leaving you to wonder if you can trust him when the political tides change.

Are we at that point with Rubio yet?

Asked directly how he would vote if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought the same bill to the floor now, he said he would vote no because passing the bill now wouldn’t be productive.

“At this point, bringing the Senate bill back to the floor would be a show vote,” he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “It would set us back even further—taking an issue that’s already divided people and actually going to stir the pot and poison the well even further. Why would I support an effort to do that?”…

In his interview with the Journal, the Florida Republican said he still supports immigration reform, and a spokesman made clear that Mr. Rubio doesn’t regret his support for last year’s Senate bill, which also called for enhanced border security and an overhaul to the legal visa system.

That’s technically not a flip-flop. He’s not saying he’d vote differently if he could travel back in time, he’s saying that circumstances have changed politically such that a solution that might have worked yesterday won’t work now. He’s being nimble and pragmatic, not mealy-mouthed! But c’mon: Of course it’s a flip-flop. The reason he won’t say that he’d do it differently if he had it to do over again is because that would force him to admit an error in judgment, which is not something voters want to see in a would-be president. That’s another reason why Romney ended up standing by RomneyCare: Whether that law was a good idea is debatable, but if he had repudiated it, the fact that he had made a serious error in judgment wouldn’t have been. That’s what Rubio’s going for here, although I don’t know how you escape the conclusion that he made a serious error in judgment anyway. One of the reasons people are so “divided” about immigration right now is that conservatives, for good reason, are convinced that their own representatives are eager to sell out their concerns — including certain representatives who ran for Senate as stalwart conservatives themselves in 2010. The main catalyst of that feeling is — ta da — Rubio’s Gang of Eight bill. The most generous thing you can say about his participation in the Gang is that he thought it was the best deal possible given Democrats’ ludicrous affinity for illegal immigration and that an even worse policy would end up being enacted if his bill failed. (In fact, he’s made that very argument himself.) But look: The reason that righties are upset with him is that the Gang of Eight bill wouldn’t have worked. It would have granted probationary legal status to illegals before the border was secure. It was a bad bill not because it was “divisive” or whatever, it was bad because it was bad. Is he not willing to admit that still?

Anyway, he also told the Journal today that he supports ending DACA, although one of his staffers stressed that nothing he’s said recently necessarily means he’d support shutting down the government to stop Obama’s impending amnesty. That’s not surprising, needless to say. Exit question: Can we glean anything about 2016 from his immigration pandering lately? I thought, given the possibility that Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will both run, that Rubio would cede most of the conservative vote to them and run as a more establishment Republican. But now I don’t know. Maybe he senses that conservatives are swinging back towards hawkishness after a flirtation with Paul-style foreign policy over the last two years. If Paul’s destined to have trouble with mainstream righties, Rubio can pick up a bunch of support among them, especially among those who think Cruz might be unelectable for some reason.