Once a strong 2016 contender, Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) stock among conservatives dropped significantly after he helped to craft the Senate’s immigration reform bill.
Preliminary 2016 polling, which had shown Rubio at the top of the prospective GOP pack in late 2012 and early 2013, revealed his standing among conservatives had collapsed by the beginning of this year. Some analysts indicated that Rubio would ultimately recover from his immigration reform-induced collapse in the polls – his likely 2016 GOP opponents are not well positioned to attack the Florida senator from the right on immigration issues – but it would be months before Rubio would have the chance to rehabilitate his image with conservatives.
But the crisis on the southern border has provided Rubio with an opportunity to create some distance from his own immigration reform bill and to adopt a more hawkish stance on border security. Rubio has made the most of that opportunity, and it seems to be bearing fruit.
A recent Quinnipiac survey of the 2016 landscape in Florida found Rubio rebounding significantly among conservative voters in that critical Super Tuesday state. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who had been consistently trouncing his potential GOP opponents in his home state, has slid significantly among Republican primary voters. An April Quinnipiac poll found Rubio trailing both Bush and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). By July, however, Rubio had regained standing among Florida Republicans and is now statistically tied with Bush, at 18 and 21 percent support respectively, in the race for the GOP nomination in Florida.
Rubio’s penance on immigration reform is, however, coming at a price. While Rubio’s stock among conservatives is on the rise, standing in the media is falling proportionally.
In an appearance on Fox News Sunday this week, Rubio was forced to contend to explain why his overtly political flip-flop on immigration reform was not in any way political.
Wallace opened his interview with Rubio by noting how his standing among conservatives collapsed over the course of 2013, mostly due to his embrace of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants as part of a comprehensive reform package.
“When I got involved in the issue, I knew how difficult it was politically,” Rubio conceded. He added that his original push for reform was based on his own belief that his was the right solution to a pressing problem.
“I don’t know what it means politically for me or anybody else, but that’s not my job,” Rubio added. “I didn’t get elected to maintain good poll numbers nationally.”
“If it’s not political, why have you flipped?” Wallace pressed.
“That’s not accurate, Chris,” Rubio replied. “We’re not debating what to do, we’re debating how to do it.”
Without noting what killed it, Rubio conceded that his original proposal for reforming the immigration system is dead. “So our choices are, we can either continue to beat out head against the wall and try a process for which we’ll never have support, or we can try another way we can make progress on,” he added.
Who knows how much of his lost standing among conservatives Rubio will be able to recover, but his rehabilitation has certainly begun earlier than most analysts predicted it would. Some Republicans will be turned off by the Florida senator’s flip on immigration, while others will never be able to trust his instincts on the issue of reform. But the longer Rubio’s position on the issue of reform mirrors that of his potential primary opponents, it’s likely that the prospective 2016 candidate will continue to recover in the polls.
This post has been updated since its original publication.