“While Rubio did take some hits on immigration, I do think this issue can be turned to his advantage over time,” Kengor suggests. “What gets overlooked is that Rubio’s position is actually very close to where Reagan was.”
In 1986, Reagan signed off on the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, but also provided for tighter border security going forward. That is essentially what Rubio favors, Kengor notes.
“Beyond just the 1986 legislation, Reagan was very pro-immigration,” Kengor observed. “He wanted it to be legal, but Reagan constantly talked of the ‘Shinning City on a Hill,’ and America as a beacon to the world. If the city had to have gates, the gates were open.”
Reagan’s “Belief in the Individual,” Kengor explained, guided his views on immigration in a way that directly connects with Rubio’s biography.
“Reagan constantly identified with the boat people from Cuba and Vietnam in a way that directly connects with Rubio’s biography,” he continued. “These are the people who really get to the roots of Marco Rubio’s story because Rubio is truly the son of immigrants who escaped from an oppressive place to find freedom. His is a uniquely American story.”
There are other Republicans Kengor identifies who embody most, if not all, of the 11 principles, Kengor said. He names Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. Even so, Rubio stands out in Kengor’s view, as the one who can connect with Hispanics who are open to conservative ideas.
“Hispanics are too committed to their faith to ever feel comfortable or at home in the rapidly secularizing Democratic Party,” Kengor said. “The Republican Party, or, really the conservative movement, is a far better fit for Hispanics than the liberal, progressive wing of the Democratic Party and they can be pulled over.”
While there are legitimate differences over the shape and direction of immigration reform, conservative critics of Rubio are overlooking some key points, Kengor maintains. For starters, Rubio has a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union (ACU), and he’s a conservative on both economic and social issues, Kengor points out.
“I’m not in the tank for Rubio,” he said. “I don’t work for him and I’m not a cheerleader for him. This is my honest, clinical appraisal as someone who has spent his life studying Ronald Reagan. As I carefully went through these 11 principles, Rubio continually came to mind.”