Home/Daniel Larison/Rubio and the Politics of Immigration (II)

Rubio and the Politics of Immigration (II)

Jennifer Rubin marvels that pro-immigration conservatives and opportunists have jumped on the Rubio-amnesty bandwagon:

From Grover Norquist to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to Sean Hannity, Rubio has gotten favorable to glowing reviews from previously hard-line opponents of comprehensive immigration reform.

As many have already noted, it’s absurd to call Norquist an opponent of this sort of legislation, much less a “hard-line” one, and it’s also incorrect to describe Ryan this way. Ryan’s lifetime ratings from conservative immigration groups are mediocre, and the speed with which he decided to applaud Rubio’s proposal suggests that his voting record may have understated his sympathy for these measures. As for Hannity, he will presumably say what he perceives to be most expedient for winning elections.

It could be more significant that Rubio seems to have neutralized someone like Mark Levin, but this is misleading. Levin has to balance his audience’s opposition to amnesty proposals with his audience’s (baffling) enthusiasm for Rubio. Ever since he challenged and defeated Charlie Crist, Rubio has been given an incredible amount of deference from movement conservatives, many of whom had embraced him early on. For his part, Rubio manages to avoid receiving the McCain treatment on immigration because he has made a point of cultivating movement conservatives and conservative media, and in return they present him and his proposals to their audiences differently than they would present the same proposal coming from, say, Lindsey Graham.

That doesn’t mean that rank-and-file opposition to amnesty is that much less than it was in recent years. It means that there are a lot of movement conservatives that like Rubio and they are trying to protect him and his future political prospects from a damaging backlash. Instead of vilifying him as they would McCain, these movement conservative fans present him as a “problem-solver,” which is a term that they might normally ridicule when it involves supporting policies that they otherwise reject. Things may change once there is legislation to be debated and voted on. The noteworthy thing about the movement conservative response to Rubio’s immigration proposal is that his status as a conservative folk hero has so far shielded him from the hostility and criticism that he would normally be facing. If Rubio defines himself as the Republicans’ leading supporter of an amnesty proposal, he could gradually undermine his standing with the most conservative voters that have been his strongest supporters to date.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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