Marco Rubio: The next John McCain

Abandoning his own immigration bill, he hopes to take McCain/Romney flip-flop path to the nomination. It won't work

Published October 28, 2013 4:44PM (EDT)

Marco Rubio                          (AP/Jose Luis Magana)
Marco Rubio (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

Sen. Marco Rubio is revving up his 2016 presidential campaign by abandoning the immigration reform bill he helped craft. Over the weekend his spokesman told Breitbart News that he no longer wants to see a House and Senate conference committee try to craft a comprehensive reform bill; he now favors a series of piecemeal steps that will beef up enforcement and border security and do nothing to create pathways to citizenship – since that’s the aspect of the Senate bill House Republican extremists just won’t accept.

That Rubio revealed his plans in an “exclusive” with Breitbart News – spokesman Alex Conant sent a similar email to Politico and TPM -- proves that his goal is pandering to the wingnuts.

This isn’t the first time Rubio has changed his mind about immigration reform, so maybe it won’t be the last. Think Progress has an excellent timeline of the way Rubio has already flipped and flopped on what was supposed to be his signature issue, just in the last 10 months. He refused to say whether he supported his own bill up until mid June, then voted for the product of the so-called Gang of Eight (of which he was a member) on June 27. But just as a coalition of business groups and moderate Republicans are gearing up to push the comprehensive reform bill he helped draft, Rubio decides it’s a non-starter.

The Plum Line's Greg Sargent notes that Rubio’s move is just more evidence that the GOP doesn’t want to be a governing party – it prefers grandstanding and playing to its far right, and that’s especially true of most of its 2016 hopefuls.

Let’s recall that in all of the blather about GOP rebranding in Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preiebus’s “autopsy,” only one actual policy change seemed both safe and essential enough to merit inclusion, and that was comprehensive immigration reform. But a year after Mitt Romney lost the presidential race at least partly because his “self-deportation” rhetoric increased President Obama’s edge with Latinos beyond his already overwhelming 2008 level, the GOP still won’t face demographic reality. Like Romney, Rubio won’t risk the short-term rage of the party’s far-right, entirely white base in order to neutralize immigration as an issue in the long run.

Most smart congressional observers think some version of the comprehensive Senate bill could pass the House with heavy Democratic support and just enough Republicans. But that would require House Speaker John Boehner allowing such a bill to come to the floor, as he ultimately did with the shutdown-debt ceiling deal, the Violence Against Women Act, Hurricane Sandy aid and January’s fiscal-cliff compromise. Some advocates hoped a full-court political press might get Boehner to take that step; Rubio clearly thinks it’s too risky politically for him to pressure the House speaker that way.

Of course his Tea Party rival Sen. Ted Cruz has no problem undermining Boehner from his right. Rubio lacks either the courage or the brains (or both) to practice Cruz’s self-promoting, take-no-prisoners politics.

Maybe Rubio thinks, hey, flip-flopping worked for Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Both men renounced signature legislative accomplishments when running for the GOP presidential nomination – McCain said he wouldn’t vote for his own immigration reform bill, and Romney famously denounced Romneycare – in order to win over the party’s conservative base.

Well, it worked to secure them the nomination -- but of course neither man became president. Neither will Rubio. And he won’t get the nomination, either. Flip-flopping obviously doesn’t disqualify someone from getting the Republican nod, but Rubio’s flexible spine will.

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Elections Immigration Reform Sen. Marco Rubio Sen. Ted Cruz Tea Party