Marco Rubio's Tough Sell on Immigration

| Tue Apr. 23, 2013 12:11 PM EDT

By all accounts, Marco Rubio seems to be entirely sincere in his desire to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. I had some doubts about that initially, wondering if his support was mostly for show. I thought it was pretty plausible that he'd go along for a while to cement his reputation as a reasonable guy, but then find some convenient excuse to abandon the proceedings, accusing Democrats of refusing to get serious about border security or guest workers or something.

That might still happen. So far, though, Rubio sure looks like a guy committed to getting a bill passed. Unfortunately for him, as National Review's Robert Costa reports, the base isn't buying it. Last week Rubio made the rounds of an anti-immigration convention to chat up conservative radio talkers:

For an hour, the freshman Republican went from table to table, speaking passionately about the bill’s merits. As I shadowed Rubio, it was striking to see how much he is personally admired by the colorful conservative pundits who broadcast on local AM stations, and by the bigger syndicated names like Limbaugh. They still believe, without a doubt, that he’s a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and they love that he’s already a national force.

But when it comes to immigration, they aren’t buying it.

The whole scene plays out uncomfortably. Rubio is the young salesman everyone invites inside for a cup of coffee, but sends off with only a smile and a handshake.

This is going to be a very tough sell. A big part of the problem is going to be headlines like this from Politico yesterday: "Immigration reform could be bonanza for Democrats." Their analysis is crude, and conflicts with more sophisticated studies like this one, but let's face it: working politicians are more likely to be swayed by a simple, crude look at the numbers than by some academic with a regression model. What's more, denying Obama a political victory is every bit as seductive to the right as it's ever been. If immigration reform passes, it's going to pass by the skin of its teeth. Background checks were just a drop in the ocean compared to this.

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