Meh. We’re still years away from the primaries, during which time he’ll be furiously rebuilding goodwill with the base by tossing out conservative red meat in all directions, and he remains very popular on balance, if not quite as popular as he used to be. And it’s only two polls! On a scale of one to 10 in terms of significance, I’d rate this somewhere around 0.5.
On a scale of one to 10 in terms of schadenfreude for border hawks, though? Easy eight, baby.
Only two surveys, one by ABC News and The Washington Post and one by Rasmussen Reports, have tested Mr. Rubio’s popularity since the Senate reached the final stages of passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Both measured double-digit drops in his net favorability rating among Republicans…
Before the Senate took up immigration reform, Mr. Rubio was largely a blank slate, upon whom both establishment Republicans and Tea Party supporters could project what they wanted (a dynamic that Barack Obama benefited from in 2008). Now Mr. Rubio has chosen a side, at least on immigration, and as long as it is a top issue in the news, Mr. Rubio may be identified more with the moderate wing of his party…
In other words, Mr. Rubio and his strategists may be playing a long game, sacrificing some support on the right they were likely to lose anyway for support in the middle. And while his stance on immigration reform has not yet earned Mr. Rubio a robust increase in his support among independents, that could still come.
Actually, the two polls are split on Rubio’s support among indies. One, ABC’s, shows him dropping six points in net favorability; the other, Rasmussen’s, shows him gaining five. That’s the “electability” result Rubio wants from all this — trade some (but not too much) conservative support for support in the center to help him claim that he’s the one guy in the field who can unite conservatives and moderates in the general to beat Hillary. As for the “blank slate” point, it’s spot on and I feel stupid for not making it myself last week in my critique of Rubio’s Obama-esque rhetorical shtick. O himself, by his own description, is the consummate blank slate for voters; the whole point of his Hopenchange message was to mask his liberal agenda in a sunny, supposedly post-partisan, “pragmatic” approach that would attract centrists and low-information voters. That’s Rubio’s plan too. That’s why his speeches are always brimming with hyper-optimistic messages about the glory of America. Sure, he’s a Republican and a conservative (on most issues) — but he’s an American first. The problem Rubio has that Obama didn’t is that the media is lousy with liberal shills who were happy to carry O’s stupid “post-partisan” message for him without scrutinizing it. They won’t do that for a Republican; Rubio needs something tangible to deflect the inevitable media charges in 2016 that he’s the new GOP Hitler. Immigration reform is his talisman. Even if reform collapses, he can still claim that he did his part to make it happen. The media will call him Hitler anyway but it won’t have the same bite.
Speaking of him throwing red meat around, Politico reports that he might not be as committed to quarterbacking a new bill banning abortions after 20 weeks as pro-life champions have hoped. In many ways, it’s a thankless task. Even some conservative women on the Hill think the GOP could use more women legislators as spokespersons for this issue, and of course the abortion fanatics in the Democratic caucus are warning him in advance that the bill will go nowhere at all. But messaging is his thing, his big selling point. The risk of him stepping on a landmine a la Todd Akin is, or should be, small. If he wants to be the new Great Communicator, there’s no better way to ace the degree-of-difficulty portion of the competition than by taking on abortion. Social cons will be watching and he needs to win people back. No time like the present.