Of course, he’s only been in office for 27 months—that’s plenty of time still for him to surprise us—but this line from Politico’s report should give immigration-reform hopefuls serious pause: “Either way, in the end, Rubio’s view has evolved from believing that he needed passage in order to be able to display a substantive accomplishment, to believing he will get credit for trying so aggressively.” In other words, it’s a lot easier to walk away, basically unscathed, and portray himself as the reasonable guy who genuinely wanted reform but couldn’t negotiate with the unreasonable Democrats, than it is to stick around and actually get the bill done.
If Rubio assumes that he will get credit for trying, or simply for appearing to try, he’s probably right. Rubio’s boosters in the conservative movement will have every incentive to give him credit, because that cements his reputation as a would-be “reformer” without tying him to legislation that most conservatives oppose. It allows Rubio to attack whatever legislation does emerge, which wins him goodwill from some of the conservatives that don’t trust him on this issue, and gives him an opportunity to rail against the flaws in the current system while presenting himself as the advocate of “real reform.” Supporting a bill that the administration favors does Rubio very little good, and being seen as the one that helped to derail or delay it is very useful. So Rubio may be trying to have it both ways on this issue, and I suspect it may work for him. As I said back in January:
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.