HuffPo’s Jon Ward has an illuminating little item on Sen. Marco Rubio’s “charm offensive” into the fever swamps of the talk-radio right. The Flordia senator, Ward writes, called in to Mark Levin’s show to tout his immigration reform proposal. During the interview, Levin was “soft-spoken and receptive.” And after Rubio hung up, Levin was effusive:

He and I actually go back a ways. When he was at five percent in the polls, this was the first show to endorse Rubio against [Charlie] Crist, and I’m glad I did. You don’t have to agree with everything he said, but listen to him. He’s a thinker, he’s trying- he’s a problem solver. He’s a conservative. Like I said, you don’t have to agree with everything he said, but he even said, ‘Look I’m open to ideas, I’m open to suggestions, let’s advance our principles. It’s a problem, we’ve got to address this problem, and he’s right. We have de facto amnesty right now. When he said it, it set a light bulb off. Maybe I am a little slow. I said, ‘Well he’s right, we do have de facto amnesty.’ Which is exactly why Obama wants to really do nothing.

The features of Rubio’s immigration plan — beef up border security; send undocumented workers to the “back of line” for legal status; set up some kind of employment verification system — are essentially the same as the Bush administration’s comprehensive reform proposal (which, in the interest of disclosure, I should note that I was in favor of, then as now). Mark Levin hated it. Initially, I thought Levin warmed to the Rubio-Bush framework because conservatives today are in a kind of political wilderness that made 2007 look like a vacation; accepting immigration reform, while a bitter pill, makes crude tactical sense.

But Ward, sharply, detects a different motivation at play in Levin’s mind:

The new construct will be that President Obama and Harry Reid, if they don’t agree with Rubio’s ideas on immigration reform, just want to retain “amnesty.” This is a significant shift, if Levin warms to it and the rest of talk radio follows suit. In the past, they have thrown the “amnesty” tag at just about anything that moved. Under this new construct, they would still be yelling about “amnesty,” but only in describing the Democratic plan for immigration reform, and not all plans except building a border fence.

The lesson here is that you can easily lasso paper tigers like Levin. The trick is to get them to redirect toward Obama the hatred they previously directed toward your impure legislative thoughts. Then a “lightbulb” will go off.

Well played, Marco Rubio. Well played.