Outside the Donald Trump black hole of insanity and despair, the real political action in the Republican presidential race is happening between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who are busily attacking one another over immigration. Cruz is attacking Rubio for supporting comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 and trying to position himself as the one candidate who has stood against “amnesty.” Rubio is making the case that Cruz also supported some forms legalization and is not the consistent conservative he claims to be. With these two at each other’s throats, lesser candidates are sensing an opportunity to sneak in and claim a slice of the media and voter attention for themselves.
Rand Paul is one of those candidates. Languishing in the polls and incapable of generation even the slightest hint of buzz, Rand is trying to insert himself into the adults’ conversation, arguing that you just can’t trust Cruz on immigration:
“Without question both Rubio and Cruz have been for amnesty, so it’s kind of a silly debate,” the Kentucky senator said. “The amendment that Cruz put forward at the time — no one understood it to be a poison pill, it was not advocated or put forward as a poison pill, it was an advocacy for legalization and normalization.”
“I think Cruz is being disingenuous and not honestly presenting the facts when he says that he was not for legalization: He’s wanted to have it both ways,” Paul said. “His amendment, I think, was put straight forward — and I don’t think there’s any contemporaneous evidence that he was putting forward something that he didn’t really believe in.”
This is in reference to an amendment Cruz offered to the 2013 Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status, but close off the path to citizenship. Cruz argues that the amendment was a poison pill designed to kill the legislation altogether. Rubio (and Paul) are making the case that the amendment reflects what Cruz actually believes and that he’s lying when he says he’s never supported legalization. “It stretches credulity,” Paul said about Cruz’s argument, “and I think it also makes you wonder about exactly whether or not we can take him at face value on what he presents.”
It’s all very messy politically, but if we’re talking about shifting stances on immigration as a matter of trust, then there are few people less trustworthy than Rand Paul. His history on immigration is one long series of flip-flops and reversals. While campaigning for the Senate in 2010, he was a hardline immigration opponent, attacking the DREAM Act as “an official path to Democrat voter registration for 2 million college-age illegal immigrants.” One of his first acts as a senator was to back a constitutional amendment that would end birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
But then Mitt Romney got thumped in the 2012 election, losing badly among Hispanic voters after advocating “self-deportation,” and Rand Paul the hardliner became Rand Paul the moderate. He endorsed “an eventual path” to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He wrote about the need to “normalize the status of the 11 million undocumented citizens,” starting with “Dream Act kids.” He announced qualified support for the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill and its path to citizenship.
But then, as conservatives lined up against reform, he began his shift back into hardline territory. He ended up voting against the Senate bill, and in the aftermath of the child migrant crisis he voiced support for House legislation to end President Obama’s deportation protections for DREAM Act-age immigrants.
So compared to Rand Paul, Ted Cruz is the picture of consistency when it comes to immigration. Rand has voiced support for "amnesty" no matter how you want to define it -- citizenship, legal status, whatever. But Rand is desperate to get back in this thing and he has to seize opportunities where he can. If that means pretending he’s a trustworthy voice on immigration, then that’s what he’ll do. And if that means launching a frontal assault on Cruz, who is something like a folk hero among conservatives for, among other things, his opposition to “amnesty,” then he’ll do that too. The problem is he just doesn’t have any credibility to make a case against Cruz’s trustworthiness.