If there’s one thing we learned from his 2010 Senate race, it’s that you can take anything Rubio says about immigration to the bank. Word is bond.
This ad is a sort of revenge on border hawks, I think, for using the word “amnesty” so prodigally in criticizing immigration plans they don’t like. There are at least four different definitions. Rubio’s taking advantage of that to insist that his presidency will be 100 percent amnesty-free, which is true if you define the term in its narrowest sense, as a no-strings-attached grant of legal residency to illegals. If you define it more broadly, as part of a security-for-legalization deal with the left to let illegals stay subject to some minimal preconditions about learning English and paying back taxes, the odds that there’ll be no amnesty under President Rubio are basically zero. Imagine the first Latino president, whose biggest legislative initiative as a senator was immigration reform, spending his entire first term in office doing zip about legalization. He’d be demagogued ruthlessly for his inaction by Democrats in 2020, especially if Rubio performs better with Latino voters this November than Republicans have done historically. On top of that, imagine the pressure on Rubio from the donor class if he swept into office with a Republican House and a Republican Senate. Half the reason donors love him is because he stood up to the right on immigration. They’d want him to take advantage of his congressional majorities to get something done on amnesty ASAP, a la Obama and ObamaCare in 2009-10, before Democrats get a crack at taking back the Senate in the 2018 midterms. And if/when it happens, President Rubio will say, “I promised you ‘no amnesty’ and I kept that promise. All 10 million illegals who are now allowed to stay will have to learn English.” What more could you ask for?
I think this is an effective ad, by the way, even though anyone who’s followed the Gang of Eight saga since 2013 will double over laughing at it. Think about how many casual Republican voters there are in New Hampshire who spend 10 minutes a week on politics and know next to nothing about Rubio except that he seems like a nice, impressive young man. Does this sound like a guy who’s going to give away the farm on legalization? Why, he sounds as tough on illegals as Trump does! And he sounds — well, not angry, as he tried to sound last night, but deeply, deeply concerned. This is Rubio 2.0 you’re seeing here, the guy who spent six months running as Mr. Optimism to no avail and who’s now decided that he’s too far out of sync with the public’s mood to keep that up. Now he’s Mr. Optimistic But Deeply Troubled At The State Of Our Country. Note too how Rubio emphasizes national security here as the reason for tougher borders. That makes three different emphases on immigration for the three strongest candidates in the race. For Trump and his fans, immigration is foremost a cultural matter; for Cruz, it’s foremost an economic matter; for Rubio, who wants to be the “national security candidate,” it’s foremost a matter of “keep[ing] America safe.” That’s why Rubio stressed the threat from ISIS last night when asked about immigration, as if jihadis were no threat circa 2013, and why his last-minute barrage against Cruz segued from immigration to defense. Ultimately, all his attacks on Cruz are a matter of questioning his willingness to protect America. You’ll find that clip below too.
Update: I don’t know if Rubio still has a chance with the sort of grassroots conservative who knows who Brian Terry is, but if so, this is a shrewd way to go after it. Would Terry’s sister endorse someone who she thought was weak on immigration?