Audio: Rush Limbaugh and Marco Rubio on immigration reform

Via the Examiner, here’s the acid test of Rubio’s conservative-media charm offensive on immigration. Are his retail political skills so formidable that he can sell Rush and his enormous grassroots audience on a bill which, by McCain’s own admission, is little different from what Ted Kennedy was pushing circa 2007? Actually, that’s the wrong question. He’s not really selling the Senate bill here. What he’s selling is the idea that comprehensive reform is the conservative thing to do, even if this particular bill ends up going down in flames when the enforcement mechanisms prove too weak. (He emphasizes at around 3:30 that he won’t support it if there’s no meaningful enforcement trigger in the final draft, a point he made yesterday on Ed’s show too.) Rush issues no official verdict but he does congratulate Rubio on doing something “admirable and noteworthy” in “recognizing reality,” just a day after he said of the Senate bill, “I don’t know that there’s any stopping this. It’s up to me and Fox News, and I don’t think Fox News is that invested in this.” Whatever ends up passing or not passing, sounds like Rubio’s immunized himself from charges of RINO-dom, which I think is one of his core goals in courting righty media so aggressively.

BuzzFeed thinks the key passage is where Rubio says he won’t vote for the bill without real enforcement measures built in, but as I say, we already knew that from Ed’s show yesterday. The real key comes at around 4:00 when Rush asks the million-dollar question, i.e. won’t a path to citizenship mean millions more votes for Democrats on balance? Rubio’s telling reply:

I am confident that, given a fair chance, I can convince most Americans, including Americans of Hispanic descent, that limited government and free enterprise is better for them and better for their upward mobility than big government is. Because that’s the reason why they came here.

If you share that confidence, you should feel much better about the Senate bill (and future reform efforts) than doomsayers do. If you don’t, and I don’t for various reasons, then no. But note the “I” instead of “we” or “Republicans” or “conservatives.” That’s the sound of a man who’s supremely confident in his ability to move mountains through the sheer force of his charisma. (Can you think of any prominent Democrats who feel the same way about themselves?) This interview, and his other interviews lately, are a demonstration of it: Can he convince the most deeply skeptical members of his own party to at least keep an open mind about the sort of bill that made McCain’s “Maverick” label a curse word among conservatives? He’s doing pretty well so far, no? The real target audience here, I think, isn’t Rush’s audience but centrist Republicans and media types who are desperate to make the base more open to centrist policy ideas but completely confounded as to how to do it. Rubio’s message: I can do it. And maybe he’s right. Maybe each side’s ideological principles are basically only as sturdy as the support they get from charismatic leaders at the top. Ask an anti-war Obama voter about that, if you can still find one.

Exit question: There are bound to be a handful of Democratic defections in the Senate on the immigration bill, which means, realistically, Reid needs at least 10 or so Republicans to vote yes. Can he possibly get there if Rubio votes no?