Pundits expected the terrorist attacks in Paris to shove the GOP’s primary race towards national-security debates and to boost the experienced pols, including Sen. Marco Rubio.
But the latest Reuters tracking poll instead shows real estate developer Donald Trump consolidating his lead at the top of the crowded GOP field, with just under 40 percent support.
At the same time, neurosurgeon Ben Carson has lost more than half his support, dropping from 26 percent at the end of October to just over 11 percent today. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has tripled his support, rising from 3.6 percent to 11.6 percent today.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, has been the steady drop in support for Rubio. One week before the Paris attacks, Rubio was in third place with 11.8 percent support. He has since fallen to 8.2 percent, putting him in 4th place.
Rubio has made a robust and aggressive foreign policy a centerpiece of his campaign. Before the Paris attacks thrust ISIS into the daily news cycle, Rubio had been calling for a heavy military intervention against the militant Islamic terror group.
If ever there were a time for Marco Rubio to break out of the crowded field, the immediate aftermath of a stunning terror attack by ISIS ought to have been it. Rubio even called the attacks a “positive development” in focusing voters on such an important issue.
Setting aside Rubio’s inartful phrasing, voters’ renewed focus on national security and terrorism isn’t helping his campaign. A major factor in this could be Rubio’s checkered history on illegal immigration and amnesty.
In the days following the Paris attacks, both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz attacked Rubio for his support of Senate amnesty legislation co-authored with Democrat Sens. Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin. Cruz explicitly tied Rubio’s support for amnesty to the current debate over resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.
Rubio has struggled over the issue of accepting Syrian refugees. In September, he fully supported resettlement, but switched to opposition after the Paris attacks. He has since come out in favor of accepting some refugees, provided there was sufficient vetting.
Marco Rubio’s muddled position on the refugee issue could be reminding voters, especially Republicans, of his muddled positions on illegal immigrants.
In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks, over 18 percent of Republicans said Rubio was the best candidate to handle the issue of terrorism. Around half of that support has since evaporated, bringing Rubio down to just over 11 percent. At the same time, Trump has picked up 11 points on the question, and Ted Cruz has gained almost 3 points. Currently, almost half of Republicans, 44 percent, say Trump is the best candidate to tackle terrorism.
At the end of October, Americans believed the Democrat party was better able to handle the issue of immigration than the GOP. Today, that belief has been flipped. Over 31 percent of Americans say Republicans are better able to handle immigration, while just around 25 percent prefer Democrats.
To most establishment pundits, the two issues are unrelated. The abrupt shift in Reuters’s tracking poll on immigration shows that voters don’t view these issues in silos. Marco Rubio’s rhetoric is aligned with where the American voters currently are, but his record reminds them that rhetoric is only a string of words.