Let’s start simple with John Harwood’s tweet:

Whoa. So Rubio’s finally running away from one of the key parts of the special path to citizenship created by the Gang of Eight amnesty bill he helped write, huh? Without a green card, there’s no citizenship later, and as recently as three months ago, Rubio was on record as still supporting a path to citizenship for illegals. He’s finally flip-flopping back towards conservatism on this issue!

Well, not exactly. Here’s the transcript via CNBC (the all-caps are in the original so send your hate mail to them, not me), Skip to 6:30 of the clip to watch:

HARWOOD: THAT’S RIGHT. AND YOU’VE SAID MORE RECENTLY YOU SUPPORT LETTING THEM GO FOR A GREEN CARD STILL. BUT NO SPECIAL PATH. AS YOU KNOW, THE SENATE BILL HAD A SPECIAL PATH. THEY CALLED IT THE SHAM WOW PROVISION BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SPECIAL PATH, THOSE PEOPLE ARE NEVER GOING TO GET THE GREEN CARDS. DO YOU STILL SUPPORT THAT PROVISION?

RUBIO: NO, BECAUSE WE CAN’T PASS IT. THE BOTTOM LINE IS I WANT TO SOLVE IMMIGRATION.

HARWOOD: SO YOU’RE AGAINST THAT –

RUBIO: YEAH, BECAUSE WE CAN’T SOLVE IT. WE WON’T BE ABLE TO GET A RESULT. WE’VE BEEN DEBATING IMMIGRATION POLICY IN THIS COUNTRY FOR CLOSE TO 30 YEARS. AND HERE, THERE ARE TWO POINTS. NUMBER ONE, WE CAN’T DO THIS ALL IN ONE BIG PIECE OF LEGISLATION. I’M CONVINCED OF THAT MORE THAN EVER.

HARWOOD: BUT SO DOESN’T THAT MEAN ALL THOSE PEOPLE WILL NOT GET GREEN CARDS –

RUBIO: WELL, LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING. I HAVE ALWAYS SAID THAT I’M OPEN TO PEOPLE HAVING ACCESS TO APPLY FOR A GREEN CARD. I DON’T THINK IT’S GOOD FOR AMERICA TO HAVE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE HERE PERMANENTLY LIVING IN THE COUNTRY WHO CAN NEVER BECOME AMERICANS. THERE’S A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO BELIEVE THAT THEY SHOULD NEVER GET THAT. THEY SHOULD ONLY BE ALLOWED TO HAVE A WORK PERMIT. SO THAT DEBATE IN AND OF ITSELF IT IS NOT GOING TO BE EASY. BUT IF YOU CREATE A SPECIAL PATHWAY, YOU MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO DO ANYTHING ON IMMIGRATION BECAUSE THE ARGUMENT YOU HEAR FROM PEOPLE IS WHY SHOULD SOMEONE WHO CAME ILLEGALLY BE ABLE TO ACCESS CITIZENSHIP OR A GREEN CARD FASTER THAN SOMEONE WHO CAME HERE LEGALLY. AND IT’S A VERY VALID ARGUMENT AND ONE THAT WILL SERVE AS A STRONG IMPEDIMENT TO MAKING PROGRESS ON IMMIGRATION.

He still supports some sort of track by which illegals can get green cards in due time but he no longer supports a special path that would let them do so in 10 years, i.e. more quickly than legal immigrants. What he’s doing here is trying to walk the line, as usual, between showing conservatives that he’s learned a hard lesson from his Gang of Eight debacle and showing center-righties that, unlike Scott Walker, he won’t pander to the right by running away altogether from his previous moderation on this issue. Yes, he’s sticking with a path to citizenship — but it’ll have to be a longer path than the Gang of Eight wanted because that’s the only politically feasible solution in the Congress. That idea, of what’s feasible and what isn’t, has been Rubio’s key dodge in all of his immigration pronouncements for the past year or more. He no longer supports comprehensive immigration reform, not because he thinks it’s a bad idea and not because he distrusts that Democrats will be serious about the security component but simply because conservative sentiment in Congress is what it is. A comprehensive bill just isn’t going to pass the House so we might as well stop talking about it and focus on security first. The hidden bit of hope in that for his centrist fans is that President Rubio might be willing to sign a comprehensive bill if the political facts on the ground in Congress were to change. If McConnell and the next Speaker can find majorities in favor of a comprehensive bill, then hey. For now, though, he’s being a realist.

Er, why wasn’t he also a realist in 2013 when the Gang of Eight bill passed the Senate and it predictably died in the House? At the barest minimum, that was a major error in judging the bill’s feasibility by a guy who’s selling himself as having sufficient legislative experience to be president despite his young age. For that matter, if it’s a “very valid argument” that illegals shouldn’t be able to jump the green-card line ahead of legal immigrants, why didn’t that argument persuade Rubio in 2013? What’s the argument in favor of letting lawbreakers get green cards before law-abiding immigrants?

Incidentally, keep watching after the immigration bit and you’ll find him defending the idea of a no-fly zone in Syria even if it means direct confrontation with Russia, the same strategy being pushed by Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton.