David Freedlander’s analysis of Rubio and immigration gets something very wrong:
Rubio is widely considered to be among the party’s top-tier contenders in 2016, but this wasn’t necessarily a fight he needed to be involved in. Not only does the effort contain the chance of angering hardcore primary voters, but Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, would be able to get Hispanic voters and those pushing for a more moderating voice on immigration within the party merely by his presence [bold mine-DL].
This last part is untrue, but this sort of thinking helps explain why Rubio is doing what he’s doing right now and why so many Republican and movement conservative leaders are indulging him. There is a widely-shared assumption among many leading Republicans that supporting immigration liberalization will improve their political fortunes with Hispanic voters. There is also a common assumption shared by many of the same people that putting a Rubio or a Cruz on the national ticket would do the same thing. The first is based on a misunderstanding of why most Hispanic voters vote for Democratic candidates, and the second is informed by an even more superficial understanding of how to appeal to Hispanic voters.
According to this flawed thinking, if Rubio promotes immigration liberalization the benefits to the GOP will be even greater than either one of these alone. The small problem is that neither of those assumptions has any grounding in reality. The GOP would hasten its long-term demise by backing a Bush-era immigration proposal, and putting a relatively conservative Cuban-American on its presidential ticket isn’t going to do them any good in the short term. But many leading Republicans don’t understand either of these things, so they are content to let Rubio take the lead on the issue in the vain hope that this will help them recover in the coming elections.
The other aspect of this subject that deserves a little more discussion is the intra-party politics of immigration. Freedlander quotes Mark Krikorian, who thinks that Rubio has doomed any future presidential hopes he may have. Krikorian says:
Rubio has tried to neutralize [the anger on the right] because of the credibility he has with Tea Party folks, but once real measures are put down in black and white you are going to see the bloggers and talk-show hosts on the right become less and less polite. Rubio’s stock among conservatives is going to start going down over the next six months, and I think he has pretty much doomed his chances for 2016.
I think this is half-right. Rank-and-file conservatives have not significantly changed their views on immigration and immigration policy in the last five years. Most are just as strongly opposed to Bush-era amnesty now as they were then, and some may be even more strongly opposed now than before. Conservative opposition to immigration legislation will not be significantly less than it was last time. It’s very likely that Rubio will not have the support of “very conservative” voters in the future if he chooses to run for president, and that becomes even more likely if an immigration bill passes with Rubio’s support. If no bill passes, or Rubio ends up as an opponent of the final product, the picture gets more complicated.
That said, conservative opposition to amnesty doesn’t automatically mean that Rubio can’t become the nominee. His support for it is one of the reasons why he shouldn’t be the nominee, but that’s a different question. However, as both George W. Bush and John McCain showed, it is still possible to be a well-known advocate of amnesty and win the nomination anyway. That’s another reason why Rubio taking less of a political risk than it seems. His natural base of support in the Republican primary electorate doesn’t include Tea Party activists and “very conservative” voters, but it does include the same people that made Romney and McCain presidential nominees.