Somewhere along the line in what has become a heated debate over how to reform the nation’s immigration laws, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) lost his base.
That much became clear during a marathon “press conference” on Wednesday that quickly turned into a rally in firm opposition to the immigration bill being debated in the Senate. According to reports from the scene, Rubio was public enemy No. 1 to the crowd, which booed his name when he was mentioned as part of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight.”
An immigration debate that started with so much promise for Rubio — including a mildly successful charm offensive with conservative talk radio — has gotten to the point where he has successfully irritated all political parties involved.
Democrats have grown upset with his recent insistence on including stricter border security measures than the bill initially called for. On Thursday, he voted against a motion to table, or kill, a controversial amendment put forth by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), which Democrats had called a non-starter and “poison pill.”
Independents, polling shows, don’t approve of his handling of the issue. And some prominent conservatives are starting to turn on him, too.
“I think he has tried to walk too fine a line on this and it hasn’t helped him. He does not want to zealously defend the legislation and talks up border security, but then votes with the Gang of 8 against things like the Vitter amendment,” said Erick Erickson, the editor of RedState, referring to an amendment that would have bolstered some elements of border security in the bill.
“That burns bridges with conservatives and still appears disingenuous to Democrats. He has gotten himself, with the help of his staff, into a no-win situation.”
The fury directed at Rubio from all sides reached a fever pitch this week when a Rubio aide was quoted as saying that some American workers “can’t cut it,” explaining why Rubio sided with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on a guest-worker program for the construction.
A Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday found that among Florida residents, Rubio’s handling of immigration has earned him overall disapproval. Crucial Independent voters disapprove of Rubio’s handling by a 32-38 split.
But it has been among conservatives where Rubio has seen the most vehement recent shift. He has seen conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) ramp up their opposition into the bill, something that has been welcomed with open arms by radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh — who Rubio has tried to sway in recent months.
Rubio’s name was not mentioned in the 20-minute interview. But Limbaugh and Cruz shared the belief that the Gang of Eight’s bill “was a disaster.”
There are some conservatives, however, who believe that the hits Rubio is taking now will ultimately benefit him in the future — especially if immigration reform efforts are successful.
Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist and former Romney adviser, said that Rubio’s leadership in particular at a time when the issue is controversial would be important as chatter develops at the possibility of a Rubio run for president in 2016.
“In order for our party to win back the White House, our candidate is going to have an approach more like Marco Rubio’s,” Madden said in an email. “There are some challenges ahead for him, no doubt, but offering a vision, offering a solution and framing this issue and others in an aspirational way will serve him well in the long run.”
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