Michael Gerson gives Rubio undeserved credit for political risk-taking on immigration:
Rubio has been willing to risk his tea party credibility in making the conservative case for reform.
As the success of Rubio’s “charm offensive” on talk radio indicates, Rubio hasn’t had to risk much of anything so far. Rubio has been lauded as a rising star and possible presidential or vice-presidential candidate almost the entire time he has been in the Senate, and his status as a conservative folk hero has allowed him to revive Bush-era immigration proposals without much resistance so far. There are very few movement conservatives and partisans that are willing to attack Rubio directly. On the contrary, the main concern seems to be protecting Rubio against any possible backlash, which is part of what Gerson is doing in this column. Weigel explains why Rubio is being given such an easy time:
They want to win the presidency, and they think he’s got what it takes to do it. So he’s uniquely able to go onto conservative media and calm down the table-bangers. They don’t want to make him look bad!
If Rubio ends up backing an immigration bill favored by Obama, it will become extremely difficult to prevent a conservative backlash against him. So it’s possible that Rubio is the one trying to play both sides of the issue, and he may end up succeeding. It would suit Rubio’s interests to make some effort to promote Bush-era legislation, which earns him favorable coverage from non-conservative media and boosts his reputation as a “reformer,” but then become an opponent of whatever legislation comes before the Senate. Rubio will say that he wanted to make a deal, but the other side was too unreasonable in its demands. That way, he can neutralize most of his conservative critics while retaining a reputation for “bipartisanship.” Is Rubio that cynical/canny of a politician? Maybe not, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out this way.