What is Marco Rubio’s current position on immigration? That is the question we ought to be asking. So far, the role of immigration in the campaign has turned around Trump’s promise to build a wall, and a knock-down drag-out battle between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio over what exactly they said during the Gang of Eight immigration debate of 2013. That’s all very interesting, but it’s not as important as discerning the candidates’ current positions.
In particular, we need to know whether and to what extent Marco Rubio’s immigration stance has actually changed. Rubio now says that comprehensive immigration reform is politically unworkable. He would secure the border before putting any other reforms in place. But is that the only position he’s changed? After securing the border, would Rubio’s immigration policy amount to a return of what he pushed for in Gang of Eight bill? We forget how tremendously troubling that bill was.
John Fonte has not forgotten. In a must-read piece up today on NRO, Fonte reviews the substance of the Gang of Eight bill, in all its ingloriousness. Yet Fonte goes well beyond a review of the Gang of Eight battle to consider as well Rubio’s current statements on immigration, along with the views of the candidate’s close aides and funders.
Fonte asks whether Rubio’s turnaround on immigration is a matter of substance or process. Has Rubio actually changed his opinion on the underlying policy issues, or simply shifted his strategy for achieving the same ends advanced by the original Gang of Eight bill? While Fonte is inclined to believe that nothing much of substance has changed in Rubio’s views, he lays out a more optimistic scenario as well. Then Fonte essentially invites candidate Rubio to persuade us that his immigration proposals as president would in fact break with the Gang of Eight plan in significant ways.
Fonte’s alternative scenarios for how a President Rubio might actually handle immigration policy drive home the real issue. Are we looking at authentically conservative immigration reform, or just the Gang of Eights’s program achieved by other means? That is the question that needs to be put to candidate Rubio.
There’s a lot to like about Marco Rubio, from his conservative record to his general election prospects. With Jeb’s withdrawal, this may be the moment when Rubio consolidates his position and emerges as the leading challenger to Trump. No doubt there will be a temptation at this point to blur his stance on immigration so as to consolidate support from all factions of the party.
Immigration, however, is too important an issue to leave so ambiguous. Unless and until Rubio satisfies conservative voters that he now rejects the most egregious provisions of the Gang of Eight bill—and not simply the order in which those provisions kick in—Sen. Cruz will rightly have an opening for attack.
Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org