The end of Marco Rubio’s ambitions?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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I’m glad there is an effort to vet the immigration reform bill. The legislative process is imperfect, and well-intended bills often end up having unintended consequences. Immigration reform is a big deal, and an 844-page bill deserves scrutiny. Maybe we can fix some of the flaws?

Having said that, I’m increasingly concerned that a new sort of “gang of eight” (the approximate number of populist conservative writers who seem to have dedicated their lives to stopping the “Gang of Ocho’s” “Shamnesty”) are well on their way to sinking sincere efforts to fix our broken immigration system.

What is more, the bill is likely just a convenient target. Let me explain. Many of the bill’s critics would probably be working to undermine any immigration reform that might attract enough bipartisan support to actually pass congress. No legislation would ever be good enough for them.

But rather than have the big, visionary conversation about immigration reform — a conversation they would likely lose — they have decided to attack the legislation as a corrupt boondoggle full of pet projects, and thus, doom it with a thousands cuts.

This is a smart strategic move. They aren’t likely to win the big debate over immigration reform, but all legislation is inherently flawed, and it’s easy to call attention to problems (or even the appearance of problems). Want proof? Their anxiousness to pursue this strategy was revealed by the bogus “Marcophone” controversy the other week.

This is not only a good strategy for opponents of immigration reform, but it’s also a smart strategy for pundits looking for controversy and page views. It’s almost too easy these days to stoke fear and paranoia about legislative details few will read. This allows people to theoretically be for some sort of immigration reform, but still oppose it based on congressional incompetence or corruption.

It’s not just populist conservative commentators who have latched onto this. They are ironically being aided by some in the mainstream press, who will quickly turn on them once immigration reform fails.

Rest assured, if immigration reform fails — as I now suspect it might — the media will quickly pivot and cast the GOP as a xenophobic party that hates immigrants and wants them kept in the shadows. These populist conservatives will have won a short-term battle, while setting conservatives up to lose the war.

In the meantime, Sen. Marco Rubio — arguably the most promising conservative voice in a generation — is in danger of becoming collateral damage.

There is a reason senators who want to become president should steer clear of legislative accomplishments. If Rubio wanted to be president (or even just beloved), he should have stuck to just giving good speeches and sniping at other people’s legislation (as Barack Obama did with immigration reform in 2007). We do not reward compromise or achievement.

As I’ve said many times, this is a profile in courage for Rubio. There’s a reason Mitt Romney won the GOP primary by attacking Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich — and demagoguing the immigration issue.

He did it because it works.

Matt K. Lewis