A follow-up to yesterday’s mini-bombshell from Byron York about what Rubio said in 2013. Skip to 3:15 below. To be fair, he never told York categorically that he’d let Obama’s order stand if elected president. What he said was, “I cannot imagine a scenario where a future president is going to take away the status they’re going to get.” If you want to pretend that that’s meaningfully distinct from what Rubio would do as president himself, have at it. The best spin that can be put on this, I think, is that Rubio lied to York at the time because he wanted to put pressure on righties to support the Gang of Eight bill. In other words, he didn’t sincerely believe that O’s order would be irreversible by a GOP successor but he wanted conservatives to believe it so that they’d panic and decide to accept half a loaf on immigration in the form of the Senate immigration bill. That wouldn’t be the first time Rubio used Obama in a sort of good cop/bad cop routine to get amnesty passed. If it makes you feel better to think that he was lying to righties two years ago to try to scare them into supporting comprehensive immigration reform rather than lying to them now about what he’ll do as president, again, have at it.
Here’s a more useful question than babbling about what Rubio really meant: How would a new Republican president, under tremendous pressure from the right to cancel O’s amnesty order and tremendous pressure from center-righties, Democrats, and Latinos to keep it intact, split the baby? The obvious solution, a la ObamaCare, is not merely to repeal but repeal and replace. Odds are very good that whoever ends up as GOP nominee, Ted Cruz included, will roll out an immigration plan early in the general election campaign that demands much stronger enforcement but also contemplates some form of legalization for illegals, including and especially those illegals who’ve already been covered by Obama’s most recent executive order. (The plan probably won’t allow a path to citizenship in the interest of keeping conservatives happy, but that’s a detail. Once legalization happens, citizenship will follow down the road inevitably.) That would allow the nominee to promise, truthfully, that ending Obama’s amnesty is a priority for him when he takes office while also placating amnesty fans by giving them a statutory route to keeping the basics of O’s plan in place. Righties will grumble, but if there’s ever a moment when they’d be willing to forgive some heresy on immigration, it’s as a pander to swing voters in the thick of a presidential race where Hillary Clinton stands to benefit if they revolt. That’s what Rubio’s counting on. I’d say it’s a smart bet.
Exit question: Is Jeb Bush really the Bush-iest candidate in the GOP field? The whole reason for Rubio’s candidacy, at least from the donor class’s perspective, is that he offers a Jeb-like policy program without any of the “Bush baggage” that’ll hurt Jeb in the general election. On the merits, though, there’s no one in the race, Jeb included, who’s more like Dubya than Rubio is. He backed comprehensive immigration reform, just as Bush 43 did; he’s the most loud-and-proud neoconservative in the field, a fact alluded to in his campaign slogan; and his boldest domestic initiative, his family-friendly tax reform plan, is a throwback to “compassionate conservatism.” Rubio said of Dubya in 2012, “George W. Bush, in my opinion, did a fantastic job as president over eight years,” a line you may see featured once or twice in Democratic (and Rand Paul) attack ads over the next year. I keep imagining a debate between Rubio and Hillary where he echoes the “yesterday is over” theme from his campaign launch by warning voters that they shouldn’t want to return to the White House of twenty years ago — whereupon Hillary retorts that they really shouldn’t want to return to the White House of ten years ago. “A return to Bush” will be the main Democratic line of attack on Republican nominees for years to come, but in Rubio’s case, as new conservative wine in old Republican bottles, it really might have some bite.