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

Rubio and the Politics of Immigration (V)

Josh Marshall thinks Marco Rubio’s political prospects are being greatly exaggerated:

Supporters can note that if Rubio ran for president in 2016 his time on the national stage would be precisely the same as Barack Obama’s was in 2008. And they’d be right. But Rubio isn’t a rising political star. The mechanics are different. It’s more like the party’s lack of traction with youth and minority voters is creating a vast zone of negative pressure, sucking him up to the heights of the party structure in Washington.

There’s no telling who will win the next presidential election, but there weren’t many people in 2005 that would have thought that the newly-elected Sen. Obama had a chance of winning in 2008, either. That’s not to say that Rubio will be as fortunate in his rivals or political landscape as Obama was, but Marshall is significantly underestimating how many movement conservatives and Republican Party functionaries want to build Rubio up into a major contender for the next nomination. As a matter of Republican Party politics, Rubio has been and continues to be a rising star because activists, pundits, and party leaders want him to be one and are doing whatever they can to make it so. They want Rubio to be the public face of the party because this is how they think the party should be perceived.

So far, he has placated enough movement conservatives enough that they are not working to sabotage him. It remains to be seen whether Republican voters around the country respond as favorably, but the fact that Rubio already has activists and radio hosts eating out of his hand clearly separates him from the Wesley Clark-like candidates of the world. It’s possible that Rubio could end up flaming out when party elite approval doesn’t translate into popular support, but it’s entirely plausible that he could end up being more or less handed the nomination on the mistaken assumption that he has a cure for what ails the GOP. It wouldn’t be the first time that Republicans turned to a “reformer” with Bush dynasty connections only to have it blow up in their faces.

Rubio’s position on immigration could come back to haunt him later in the primaries, but only if he ends up voting for a bill signed by Obama that Republicans decide to oppose en masse. Much of this depends on the contents of the bill and how interested Rubio is in retaining the support of those that identify as very conservative. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand that Rubio hasn’t become a Republican rising star in spite of his current immigration views, but rather because he is what party leaders consider to be an ideal messenger for the post-election insta-consensus that capitulating on immigration is the key to future victories. The same basic misunderstanding of why Hispanic voters overwhelmingly prefer Democrats informs the Rubio mirage and the foolish embrace of amnesty. Supporting the latter doesn’t mean that the GOP normally represents the interests of most Hispanic voters, and promoting Rubio as a means to win more Hispanic votes comes across as a desperate bit of pandering that just makes the target audience more skeptical. Naturally, Republican leaders think both of these are incredibly clever political maneuvers.

Rubio isn’t a Clark-like figure in political terms because Clark was a redundant candidate in the 2004 field. If Democrats wanted a national security hawk for their nominee back then, they had plenty of options, and they ended up backing a losing hawkish ticket. The supposed rationale for a Rubio candidacy is that he would combine a “reform” agenda with alleged insurgent/Tea Party credentials, which should theoretically satisfy most movement conservatives and party leaders. The fact that Rubio represents little more than the worst of recycled Bushism doesn’t seem to trouble them.

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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