Can Rubio Fix Damage Done in Rush to Push Immigration Reform?

Not only did Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) receive no bump whatsoever with Hispanic voters over what Mitt Romney had last election as a result of his stewardship of the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill, he burned bridges in the conservative movement and in the GOP to pass the bill. 

Sources claim Rubio’s moves in this process have had a demonstrably negative effect on his standing in the party and in the conservative movement. Members, staffers, activists, and conservative media are all visibly more careful around Rubio and his allies, and supposedly many question his judgment. 

Some members do not want to be in photographs with Rubio for fear of being associated with him publicly, according to sources. Staffers around Capitol Hill are wary of Rubio’s team and do not give them the benefit of the doubt when working on issues, not just immigration, anymore.

Every member of Senate GOP leadership--Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Whip John Cornyn, and GOP conference chairman John Thune--voted against the Gang of Eight bill. While McConnell stayed quiet throughout the process, both Cornyn and Thune worked publicly to expose the fundamental flaws in the legislation.

The group of core conservative senators that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) labeled the “Wackobird Caucus,” with whom Rubio has been associated with in the past--Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ted Cruz (R-TX)--each worked against Rubio’s Gang of Eight in various capacities as well. So did many other conservatives like Sens. David Vitter (R-LA), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Deb Fischer (R-NE). 

On the House side, members like Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Steve King (R-IA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Lou Barletta (R-PA), to name a few, publicly ripped the bill. House GOP leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, have also stated they do not support the legislation and consider it dead on arrival in their chamber of Congress.

In the world of Capitol Hill politics, many aides and office staffers feel like Rubio and his team burned still young, but what looked to be potentially longstanding, pro-conservative relationships. Rubio stands with most conservatives on many other issues, but his turnaround on immigration since his 2010 election campaign--what the Tampa Bay Times deemed a flip-flop--cut deep into the trust of a conservative movement and Republican party left fragile by President Barack Obama's re-election.

Rebuilding a burned bridge on Capitol Hill is possible, but it takes more time to rebuild lost trust than it does to erode a relationship. Rubio, still a young senator in just the third year of his first term in Congress, has plenty of time to fix these relationships, but it is telling that he chose to jeopardize them in the first place.

Rubio’s burned bridges are not isolated to his Capitol Hill colleagues. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a contender for the 2012 GOP nomination, argued that Rubio had no “respect” for the “rule of law.” Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told Breitbart News’ Tony Lee that conservatives should consider finding primary challengers to run against Rubio and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) for their Senate seats in 2016.

Former House Speaker and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich came out early against the legislation and warned in April on Laura Ingraham’s radio program that Rubio may be cut off from the Republican Party if he continued pushing the bill. “If he ends up being sucked into defending the bill in detail, then the bill will go down, and frankly, he will find himself isolated from the base of the Republican Party,” Gingrich said. Gingrich’s remarks came barely more than a year after he touted Rubio as a likely Vice Presidential candidate. 

Border state Republican governors have not been pleased with Rubio’s performance, either. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have opposed the bill from the beginning. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer opposed the bill, then offered some verbal support for some of the border offerings that came during the amendment process; she later clarified that she still had not endorsed the bill. 

Rubio has left other bastions of conservatism besides his fellow elected officials out in the cold, as well. For instance, National Review described on two occasions Rubio’s work with the Gang of Eight as his “folly.” Tea Party groups around the country who worked to elect him in 2010 have expressed contempt for his work on the bill, and radio’s Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity have shown their distaste with him throughout this process.

For the senator once cast as the “savior” of the Republican Party, Rubio’s actions on the immigration bill have left gashes in his relationships with the GOP base and the establishment alike. Whether he wants to run for president or become an even bigger player in Republican politics, Rubio is going to need to fix many of these relationships. 

In the meantime, making matters worse, as Breitbart News’ Mike Flynn reported on Monday, Rubio did not even earn anything for his shepherding of the Gang of Eight bill through the senate: Hispanics do not view him as any more politically palatable than they did Mitt Romney.


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