Rubio Isn’t Doomed, But He Is Wounded
Jonathan Bernstein is half-right in this post about Rubio and immigration:
But if Republican party actors choose Rubio, he’ll get plenty of positive coverage when it counts. In other words: even if Republican primary voters hate Rubio’s position on immigration, don’t expect that to sink his presidential campaign. Just as Romney’s health care record didn’t sink his nomination.
It’s especially the last part of this that doesn’t hold up. Romney’s health care record didn’t sink his nomination because he was opposed to the passage of the ACA from the start and claimed to support repeal. It was widely and incorrectly assumed that Republican voters would punish Romney for signing the Massachusetts health care bill, but all that mattered to ideological primary voters was a firm commitment that he wanted to repeal the federal bill. Rubio is in a different position, since he was/is a leading Republican supporter of the Senate immigration bill that the most conservative primary voters strongly dislike. If Romney had been as much of a big booster of the ACA, I think it’s safe to say that he would not have been the nominee last year.
Bernstein is right that this doesn’t doom Rubio’s presidential ambitions by itself. McCain showed support for this kind of immigration bill wasn’t enough to kill off the campaign of the presumed front-runner, and most recent Republican nominees have been more liberal on immigration than conservative voters, so this doesn’t guarantee that Rubio won’t be the nominee. It does make it less likely than if he had not identified himself with the issue or if he had voted the other way on the Senate bill. Rubio’s support for the Senate bill has inflicted some real damage on him, and it remains to be seen whether that will get worse over time or if it can be repaired. His current position contradicts what he campaigned on, and it puts him on the same side of a major issue as the administration, and neither of those will win him many admirers inside the GOP if they don’t already approve of his current position.
A lot will depend on what kind of immigration bill, if any, is finally passed, and how active Rubio continues to be in working for its passage. Because the immigration bill died in the Senate in ’07, McCain didn’t have to cope with the backlash against its passage. As far as his political ambitions are concerned, Rubio has to hope that the same thing happens to the Senate bill this year.