Tea Party favorite Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has seized the national spotlight, taking the leadership role in pushing for immigration reform, upstaging President Barack Obama and moving the country closer than it has been in a generation to tackling the problem. Whatever comes of the current round of legislative proposals, one profound change is apparent: the mainstream media have, for the moment, dropped the lie that the Tea Party is racist.
That is not to say they have let go of the idea entirely. They are still sprinkling reports with speculations about how the rest of the Tea Party will react to Rubio’s proposals. And the agreed-upon meme in the mainstream media appears to be that the House of Representatives is going to be the main obstacle to passage, since “a lot of House Republicans do not think they need to worry about the Hispanic vote in their district.”
But the prospect of immigration reform being led by a first-term, junior Senator who also happens to be a Hispanic conservative has temporarily dampened the drumbeat. It has suddenly dawned on some journalists that Rubio’s Tea Party affiliation is an asset, not an obstacle, to passing immigration reform–and that concerns for the rule of law, not xenophobia, is the driving motivation behind most Tea Party opposition to amnesty.
To some extent, the media’s sudden interest in cheering Rubio is that he seems to be furthering an Obama agenda item. Perhaps some hope that he might be useful as a foil to the rest of his party. But what they are also doing, unintentionally no doubt, is setting up a comparison between Rubio and the president–one that does not favor Obama.
While Obama dishes focus group-tested, campaign-rally demagoguery to adoring crowds of supporters, Rubio is giving statesmanlike performances in the Senate and squaring up to critics and skeptics in both the mainstream and conservative media. It is perhaps a reminder that while Obama spent his unfinished first term in the Senate undermining efforts at bipartisan immigration reform, Rubio has staked his reputation and his political future on living up to his campaign promises and seeing through real legislative change.
The major sticking point in the debate over immigration reform is whether Democrats will agree to a formula that puts border security and law enforcement before any “path to citizenship”–and, indeed, whether the legislation being proposed by Rubio actually does so. Rubio has described any attempt to undo that formula as a “deal-breaker”–yet President Obama clearly opposes linking the two, let alone putting citizenship second.
The president reportedly rewrote and softened his speech yesterday after Rubio and the “Gang of Eight” that supports the new legislative proposals preempted Obama’s attack on Republicans as the source of opposition. Obama did make a threat to introduce his own legislation in Congress if the legislature failed to deliver–to which Rubio’s response was simply that the president does not have the constitutional power to make laws.
It was a classic Tea Party answer.
Rubio will have to work hard to convince his core supporters that he is not agreeing to amnesty–at the same time that he fights to keep his Democratic colleagues from watering down the enforcement proposals. The media will awaken from their temporary swoon and return to bashing the so-called “dark vein of intolerance” in the Republican Party.
But for now, Rubio has pierced their bubble.