Thursday’s CNN debate was not kind to Donald Trump.
Ganged up by his closest rivals, The Donald had to spend most of the night on the backfoot defending himself from the attacks of both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
It wasn’t surprising for Cruz to go after Trump again Thursday — he’s been doing it since January. What was surprising was for Rubio to join the assault. For months, the Florida senator has insisted he will remain above the fray and stick to being “aspirational.”
In contrast, the CNN debate showed off a new Marco. Right off the bat, Rubio attacked Trump for his past use of illegal Polish migrants to build Trump Tower and favoring non-American workers over Americans when it came to hiring staff at his Mar-a-Lago country club.
The immigration-focused hits served as the primary thrust of Rubio’s ambush of Trump, and have become a substantial part of the senator’s material on the stump following the debate. However, most of the attention has focused on Marco attacking the Republican front-runner with rather Trumpian insults on wetting his pants and having a bad spray-on tan.
While the petty put-downs drew media attention for Rubio ahead of the crucial Super Tuesday primaries, how it will go with voters is undetermined. Trump has been hit with everything so far, so why not try to play his own game?
But what’s going to be running in campaign ads is not Trump’s alleged use of artificial tanning products but how the mogul used non-American labor for golf resort. It’s an effective weapon to use against the candidate who has positioned himself as the penultimate hardliner on an issue that’s come to dominate this primary season.
But Marco Rubio is the last person who should be making the argument.
For his Mar-a-Lago country club, Trump used America’s H-2B visa program to get seasonal labor. H-2B visas are permits for foreign nationals to come into the U.S. to work non-agricultural, low-skilled seasonal work. Trump primarily sought Romanian workers to staff his country club during peak months under the program.
For using this program, Rubio is claiming Trump put “American workers last.”
But the Florida senator has a long record of supporting programs that do, in fact, favor non-citizens over citizens.
For years, Rubio has championed a dramatic expansion of the H-1B visa program. Unlike H-2Bs, H-1Bs are work visas given for high-skilled work. Tech companies, among others, like H-1Bs because it allows them to attain workers they can pay less and demand more hours out of than American citizens. H-1Bs have been dubbed the “outsourcing visa” because the foreign worker often keeps the job they worked in the U.S. when they return to their home country.
A notorious example of how this program puts the American worker last is the case of the Walt Disney Company laying off hundreds of its own workers and then forcing those same pink-slipped employees to train their lower-paid foreign replacements. That event, oddly enough, occurred in Rubio’s home state of Florida. (RELATED: Disney Blacklisted Displaced American Workers)
Under the Gang of Eight immigration bill the senator helped craft, more companies could’ve recreated Disney’s nightmare with the expansion of the cap on the number of visas granted every going from 65,000 up to 180,000.
While Rubio has basically all but disowned that 2013 legislation, he hasn’t wavered in his support for increasing the H-1B visa program. In 2015, he co-authored a bill that would’ve expanded the number of H-1Bs granted per year to 195,000.
Rubio claimed at October’s raucous CNBC debate that the 2015 bill added reforms that made it harder for employers to abuse the program for hiring cheap, non-citizen labor. But, actually, no such protective measures were implemented into the legislation the senator sponsored. (RELATED: Rubio’s H-1B Bill Doesn’t Include The Worker Protections He Says He Supports)
There’s also an argument to be made that Rubio’s support for legalizing and ultimately giving citizenship to illegals rewards not only those migrants who broke the law, but those employers who hired them over native workers. It’s hard to argue how granting an amnesty to those who broke the law to take jobs away from citizens who followed the law is anything but putting American workers last.
Regardless of Rubio’s tawdry past on the issue, his adoption does show Republican leaders starting to grasp what’s behind Trump’s appeal. The mogul’s tough stances on illegal immigration and appeals to nationalism are essential parts for why millions of Americans are willing to cast their ballot for a former reality TV star. They don’t care he’s not sufficiently conservative or that he says mean things about various media figures.
Marco’s team is smart enough to realize that the most profitable way to bring Trump down is to undermine his appeal and portray him as someone who sided against the American worker. But in order for that attack to work, you also have to be on the side of the American workers and not merely skewering the hypocrisy of an opponent for political gain.