Does Marco Rubio really have an immigration problem in 2016?

Jill Lawrence of National Journal says no, not really, and Conn Carroll of the Examiner says yes, absolutely. For the first time and probably last time, I think she’s closer to the truth than he is. Lawrence says that Rubio’s on safe-ish ground because, let’s face it, all of his likely opponents in the 2016 field (with the possible and notable exception of Ted Cruz) are also pro-reform. Carroll grants her point but argues that being pro-reform and being pro-crappy-Gang-of-Eight-bill are two different things:

Christie has not endorsed the actual bill Rubio produced, while Jindal and Perry have both recently come out against it. And while an erroneous AP report first suggested that Walker supported the Senate bill, The Weekly Standard quickly confirmed Walker did not, in fact, support it.

The reality is that the Schumer-Rubio bill is toxic among conservatives. Leaving the path to citizenship issue aside for a second, it creates a brand new government agency with the power to set wages for the entire agricultural sector of the economy. It also creates multiple slush funds that will funnel taxpayer dollars to leftist activist groups like La Raza and Casa de Maryland. There is nothing conservative about any of that.

Lawrence does admit that “Rubio’s favorability rating among Republicans nationally had dropped 15 points since February,” but, she says, “it is still at 58 percent.” But those numbers will continue to go down as long as Rubio is the face of the wretched Senate bill. And the Washington Post has tracked a similar tanking of Rubio’s popularity, from a 54 percent favorability rating last August to just 43 percent today…

But those Republicans most engaged on immigration are also those who are most informed on the issue and the most likely to influence their less-informed counterparts. And when any Republican finds out what is really in the bill, support for it craters.

Fair points all, but let me ask the Hot Air faithful: How confident are you that Christie, Jindal, Walker, Perry, or Paul Ryan would veto the Gang of Eight bill if they were president? Rubio isn’t the only Republican who posed as an immigration hawk earlier in his career, when it was advantageous for him to do so, only to reveal the amnesty fan within now. So did Kelly Ayotte. So did Dean Heller. So, to some extent, did McCain, who ran absurdly as a border hawk in 2010. As far as I can tell, the Republican establishment is passionately and almost monolithically in favor of immigration reform, and doesn’t seem to care terribly about the policy details in their haste to impress Latinos by getting something passed and commencing the big “re-branding.” There have been so many betrayals on this issue — and I say this as someone who’s reasonably well engaged on immigration, to borrow Conn’s phrase — that unless a particular pol has been doggedly outspoken against the Gang bill, as Jeff Sessions has, I assume they have no real objection to it. Maybe that’s unfair to particular pols, but that’s how it is. My trust in prominent Republicans to deal with this issue intelligently instead of caving in a blind political panic is down to zero unless they’ve given me good reason to think otherwise. Does Rand Paul, for instance, really object to the Gang bill because it’s too weak on border security, or is he simply maneuvering that way because he needs to get to Rubio’s right on a big issue ahead of 2016? On what planet are libertarians typically hard-asses about border control and amnesty?

That’s not to absolve Rubio of his sins in all this. He, more than anyone else in the party, helped make “legalization first” reform viable this year. His reversal so soon after running as an anti-amnesty tea-party candidate is a terribly cynical betrayal, one that won’t be forgotten. But when push comes to shove, I don’t think he’s any more ardently pro-reform than virtually any other 2016 contender. He saw a political opening here — achieve something big policy-wise that would impress moderates and burnish his “electability” credentials — and he took it. The rest of the field is now reacting to him. He’s going to lose some conservative votes over it, but not for a minute do I think that we’re going to get someone who’s appreciably more hardline on immigration if we nominate Christie or Walker instead. (Maybe we would with Jindal. I need to read more.) And for all the conservative votes he loses, he’s going to use the electability argument to offset them with moderates. He already had a strong peg for that before he took up immigration — as the party’s (and America’s) first potential Latino nominee, he could reach Latino voters in a way no one else could. Now that he has immigration and bipartisan cred on top of it, he’s that much more “electable.” That’ll win him some votes, even if it doesn’t win yours. “Electable” Republicans fare famously well in GOP primaries, and the last guy who benefited from that was a lot less charismatic (and conservative on balance) than Rubio. If polls circa 2015 show him pulling significantly more Latino votes in a hypothetical race against top Democrats, he’ll be just fine.

Semi-related exit question via Charles Cooke: Where’s the Scott Walker 2016 boomlet coming from among conservatives? Is he mainly a “none of the above” choice at this point?

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