In his “About Rubio” post, Steve correctly says that I’m skeptical about Marco Rubio because of his dubious dealings with Democrats on immigration and the egregiously bad “Gang of Eight” bill. I’m also not convinced that Rubio is fully ready to be president, but the same reservation applies to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump (who I don’t think will ever be ready).
In defense of Rubio, Steve states that Rubio knows he screwed up big time on immigration, and isn’t likely to touch that hot stove again if he’s elected president. Steve goes on to argue that Rubio is quite conservative.
Rush Limbaugh says pretty much the same thing. He calls Rubio a “legitimate, full-throated conservative,” not a member of the Republican establishment. He adds that “nobody’s pure, and nobody is ever free of making mistakes.”
I agree with Steve and Rush that Rubio is a completely legitimate conservative. I also agree with Steve that Rubio probably won’t push for amnesty if he’s elected president. And it’s obviously true that anyone can make a mistake.
Why, then, am I so skeptical about Rubio?
For several reasons. First, in my view the Gang of Eight legislation isn’t a garden variety mistake. For me, immigration is a fundamental issue. To have been so wrong about it is a very big deal.
Second, I believe that Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and company played Rubio. It’s one thing to be wrong about policy; everyone is at one time or another. It’s another to become the tool of liberal Democrats.
This, I think, is what happened to Rubio. His support was critical if comprehensive immigration reform was to pick up the bipartisan steam it needed to get through the Senate. What meaningful concessions did Rubio extract from Schumer and company in exchange for his support? What concessions did he even seek?
Ted Cruz, as Rubio likes to point out, offered an amendment to provide amnesty but no path to citizenship. Cruz’s purpose is a matter of dispute, but his amendment did highlight that the Gang of Eight was totally committed to its extreme, uncompromising vision of immigration reform. It was able to get away with this extremism because Schumer and company had Rubio in their pocket.
Fourth, Rubio’s tactics in pushing for passage of the Gang of Eight legislation were unsavory. He appears to have been involved with, and at a minimum refused to repudiate, demonizing opponents like Mark Krikorian — people he now seems to agree were right all along. I wrote about this here and here.
If Rubio was terribly wrong about one of the most important issues America faces; if he was outmaneuvered by liberal Democrats; and if he was a party to smear tactics against opponents in order to advance bad legislation, then skepticism about his presidential candidacy seems warranted.
Having said that, we have to consider the alternatives. For me, Donald Trump is out of the question. As Steve points out, Trump supported amnesty at one time. And unlike Rubio, Trump lacks a record of consistent conservatism. Finally, to paraphrase Henry Fonda in “The Best Man,” many of Trump’s personal qualities are a tragedy in a man and a disaster in a president.
This leaves Ted Cruz (the rest of the field doesn’t appear to be in legitimate contention,though this could change). I have reservations about him too, but in terms of policy and judgment they count less for me than my big reservation about Rubio.
The one important non-policy, non-judgment reservation I have about Cruz is whether he will defeat Hillary Clinton (or whomever the Dems nominate). Rubio looks to me like he might very well; about Cruz, I’m not so sure.
Fortunately, Maryland’s primary is held late in the season. By then, I may have a better sense of how comparatively electable the two young Senators are.