[crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore], the young junior senator from Florida, is now the establishment candidate of choice for 2016.
As it should be expected with his new-found establishment status, Rubio’s conservative bona fides are coming into question from talk radio and other sources of right-wing discontent. Of particular concern is the senator’s signature legislative action — the now-infamous Gang of Eight attempt at “comprehensive immigration reform.”
On cue, National Review’s Jim Geraghty rode out against the currents of conservative skepticism over Rubio last week to deliver a message: the White House hopeful is “plenty conservative.”
Listing a whole range of issues — from abortion to gun rights — Geraghty finds Rubio resides firmly with the conservative movement on pretty much all of them. Additionally, the senator has very high ratings from the American Conservative Union, the National Rifle Association and a number of other powerful organizations on the Right.
The National Review reporter makes quite the argument for why Rubio’s conservative credentials are impeccable, and he even asserts that “if Rubio really represents the new GOP ‘establishment,’ then the fight is over and the conservatives won.”
A bold thing to say, but if it’s really the case conservatives have taken over the Republican establishment, then why is there so much seething anger within the grassroots?
And, more to Geraghty’s argument, why are these same outraged voters not going hogwild for the penultimate conservative politician Marco Rubio?
The answer to that question all goes back to Mr. Conservative’s signature piece of legislation.
Now Geraghty doesn’t fail to mention Rubio’s major role in the Gang of Eight, but the writer portrays it as a minor blemish to the Floridian’s otherwise un-impeachable record. Most of the article’s ink is spent trying to prove the young senator was primarily concerned with securing the border first rather than handing out citizenship.
But there’s a few problems with this characterization of Rubio’s role in the Gang of Eight. For one, and most importantly, it fails to mention it was the senator’s defining action in his five years in the Senate. Marco’s signature legislation isn’t defunding Planned Parenthood or slashing Obamacare — it’s a (failed) attempt to legalize millions of illegal aliens.
That’s why it’s more than a minor blemish that can be offset by less consequential votes in line with conservative dogma. It even presents an awkward situation for those on the Right who champion Rubio. If you’ve spent several years ridiculing the current occupant of the White House for being a lightweight, then how does it look when you then back a man with similar levels of experience and has backed away from his most notable achievement in the Senate?
It’s also a bit of whitewashing to claim Rubio was a border hawk when the immigration bill he backed was anything but a security measure. Byron York of the Washington Examiner has done invaluable work recently digging up the dirty details of the Gang of Eight.
In a November article, York wrote an exhaustive takedown of all what resided in the 2013 comprehensive immigration package. It would’ve promoted more immigration, offered instant legalization of illegals and empowered federal bureaucrats to oversee the process. And when it came to security, the bill’s guarantees weren’t particularly solid.
A commission touted by Rubio for ensuring security measures were enacted would only be able to offer tepid recommendations. A disturbing number of illegal alien criminals would be able to win passes for their crimes. And the back taxes “requirement” for legalized illegals wasn’t that much of a set-in-stone requirement.
Furthermore, in a December piece, York pointed out all the border security amendments supported by [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] and other Republican senators that Rubio voted against. One of those amendments not liked by Rubio would’ve required 350 miles of fencing to be completed at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Maybe you can still discount Rubio’s 2013 actions as an error or as simply one black mark on a near-perfect conservative checklist. You can continue to shake your head at those angry talk show hosts and online commenters who deride the senator as a squish when you believe he’s rock-solid conservative.
But you’d be missing the point.
Rubio’s support for mass immigration and amnesty is a key part of his political philosophy and the other good things about him don’t change that. Right now, immigration is the fundamental issue of the Republican primary and has galvanized the base. To downplay it is to stick your head in the sand and hope Rubio’s opposition to the Export-Import bank wins over the pitchfork crowd.
Whether Rubio checks off the list of typical conservative positions doesn’t really matter to the growing number of voters who are gravitating toward Cruz and Donald Trump. The Republican Party is dealing with a populist-nationalist fever which doesn’t seem to care much with adhering to conservative orthodoxy.
For instance, the mass volumes of “Trump is a fake conservative” attacks published by National Review and numerous other right-leaning outlets haven’t made any kind of impression on the GOP masses.
And to this right-wing insurgency, immigration is the core issue for which to assess candidates and determine whether they live up to snuff.
Clearly, Rubio does not look well when viewed from the perspective of a populist-nationalist and that’s the reason why talk radio, Breitbart and others have soured on him.
Perhaps Rubio being the candidate of the conservative establishment is his main problem. They’re losing touch with the base and he’s having trouble connecting to voters with a message that’s music to the ears of the Beltway Right.
The Onion once satirized Rubio’s birthplace as a “closed-door conservative think tank strategy session in 2010.” The perfect candidate’s problem may lie in the fact his agenda was conceived in that same strategy session.