As my colleague David Drucker has noted, while Cruz fights fierce battles with the left he prefers to carefully navigate issues that divide conservatives. Immigration is one such issue. Just as Cruz once favored increasing legal immigration levels and now would freeze current levels in place until the U.S. labor market tightens, he remains anti-amnesty but now adheres to a stricter definition of the term.
In other words, as the conservative mood on immigration has hardened so has Cruz’s position. He should just acknowledge his evolution. Rubio went from an enforcement-first position during his 2010 Florida Senate race to the Gang of Eight to saying he learned his lesson from the Gang’s failure.
But most conservatives had already learned from the mistakes of 1986. If amnesty wasn’t accompanied by greater enforcement, reduced illegal immigration, and political benefits for Republicans under Reagan, how likely was any of that to occur under Barack Obama? Cruz’s rightward shift on the issue has been more subtle.
Rubio’s immigration dilemma is similar to Mitt Romney’s on RomneyCare in 2012 — he can’t celebrate his biggest legislative initiative. Cruz should avoid a Mitt Romney dilemma of his own. Conservatives were never unhappy that Romney moved in their direction on issues. They simply did not want him to insult their intelligence by pretending his past positions never existed.