Byron York considers the implications of Rubio’s changed position on immigration:
Does that sound familiar? Any reasonable reading of Rubio’s positions then and now leads to the conclusion that he has executed a flip-flop of Romneyesque proportions. Rubio’s flip-flop is even worse politically. While Romney switched to a position that was popular with the Republican base, Rubio has done just the opposite.
The comparison with Romney may be a bit unfair to Rubio. What distinguished Romney from the average opportunistic politician was the comprehensive remaking of his entire political persona, which forced Romney to adopt a whole new set of beliefs in the span of a few years. Rubio’s shift on this one issue has been similarly sudden and dramatic, but I suspect this means that Rubio has ceased to pander to conservatives and believes he can now revert back to what was presumably his real position on immigration. This makes Rubio more like McCain, who paid lip service to border security and enforcement when he had to, but still never gave up on making passage of amnesty legislation his priority. When McCain had to fend off a primary challenge in 2010, he said what he needed to say on immigration to limit support for his challenger, and then he merrily resumed his push for the same bad legislation that he supported in the previous decade.
Conservatives could never really trust Romney, whose earlier views were only too well-known to them by 2011-12, and many conservatives have always resented McCain for his grandstanding at their expense on immigration and other issues. For various reasons, most conservatives have implicitly trusted Rubio to be “one of them.” This has given him more room to maneuver, and it may have caused him to think that he could push for an amnesty bill using the same euphemisms that he previously attacked without suffering the political backlash McCain faced in 2007. Rubio’s career before 2010 has no bearing on how most conservatives look at him, and he arrived on the national stage as the folk hero that had overthrown Crist instead of being a serial panderer desperate for conservative approval or a “maverick” that delighted in mocking conservatives. Rubio may have been further encouraged in his new immigration position by the immediate post-2012 reaction among many Republican elites that the key to the party’s problems was to increase Hispanic support for the GOP by supporting an immigration bill. Rubio’s predicament is that he seems to have taken this idea seriously and actually wants the bill to become law. If so, he isn’t playing the cynical/canny game that I thought he would.