National Review Online, February 8, 2016
Immigration isn't just another issue.
Despite his "does not compute" glitch Saturday night (which will likely dog him for the rest of his career, like Rick Perry's "oops" and Dan Quayle's "you're no Jack Kennedy" moment), Marco Rubio is still a live contender for the nomination. So it remains important to explain why I think his immigration record disqualifies him from being the 2016 nominee.
Many conservatives who admire Rubio's genuine political talent agree that his shilling for Chuck Schumer's Gang of Eight bill was bad. But they offer two reasons that this should not be an impediment to his being the Republican presidential nominee. First, they say, Rubio has learned his lesson and, second, he's quite solid on many other issues. Both parts of this defense warrant examination: Has Rubio truly changed his spots on immigration? And is immigration simply one issue among many, so that Rubio's deviation there is outweighed by his fidelity on others?
As to the first question: There's every reason to suspect Rubio is merely an election-year immigration hawk. A devastating 14-page indictment of Rubio's immigration record, prepared by Eagle Forum (html and pdf), lays out his duplicity in painful detail. Early in his career, anti-borders groups were delighted with Rubio's conduct in the Florida legislature; the head of one of them, NALEO, said, "He, as speaker, kept many of those [immigration-control bills] from coming up to a vote. We were very proud of his work as speaker of the House."
Then, when Rubio ran for the Senate, he turned into a hawk. As CNN's greatest-hits clip at last month's debate showed, Rubio said the following, among other things, during his 2010 campaign: "Earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty, it's what they call it. ... It is unfair to people who have legally entered this country to create an alternative pathway for individuals who entered illegally and knowingly did so." This hawkishness on immigration was an important reason for his upset victory over Charlie Crist.
"Once he got elected, he betrayed us all," according to Phyllis Schlafly, Rubio's first major outside endorser in the Senate primary. Rubio chose to become the chief salesman and public face of Chuck Schumer's Gang of Eight bill and, as the Eagle Forum indictment shows, his mendacity went well beyond embracing the amnesty he'd so recently denounced: It included a calculated effort to dupe conservatives about what was really in the bill. It was so bad that the head of the ICE agents' association said that "he directly misled law-enforcement officers" at a meeting right before the bill was introduced in the Senate.
Then, when the voters rebelled at Senate passage of his monstrous bill and the House refused to pass it, Rubio denounced his own bill, saying the public doesn't trust Washington to follow through on its enforcement promises. (Of course, this was apparent to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear, not just in 2013 but even in 2007, when Bush's amnesty push failed.)
To sum up: Rubio was anti-enforcement in the Florida legislature, then an enforcement hawk at election time in 2010, then Schumer's cabana boy in 2013, then a hawk again at election time. Anyone can flip once — people really do change their minds, or even see political writing on the wall and embrace a new position. But flipping and flopping in time with the election cycle should be cause for skepticism, to say the least.
And Rubio hasn't even really renounced Schumer's bill. He still supports all the parts of it, but thinks they should be passed separately rather than in a comprehensive package. And he is still an enthusiastic supporter of the most important piece of the Schumer-Rubio legislation — its doubling of legal immigration, from 1 million a year to 2 million, which, combined with the amnesty, would have resulted in the issuance of 30 million green cards in the first decade after passage.
Not only has Rubio not recanted his support for doubling immigration, he's actually sponsored a bill in this Congress to triple H-1B admissions of foreign workers (the I-Squared Act — which Michelle Malkin has cheekily labeled Rubio's second-worst immigration bill). What's more, personnel is policy, and Rubio's inner circle — pollster Whit Ayres, for instance, and Cesar Conda, his chief of staff during the Schumer romance and likely White House chief of staff — are confirmed opponents of immigration limits. The idea that the open-borders corporate culture of the Rubio operation would be trumped by some enforcement promises made on the campaign trail is a fantasy.
But even supposing all this is true, Rubio is sound on many other issues — his answer on the abortion issue Saturday night, for instance, was very strong and, while he's a little too interventionist for my taste, he's firmly in the GOP mainstream and probably more knowledgeable on foreign policy than his rivals. Since no candidate is perfect, isn't focusing so intently on immigration an unrealistic demand for purity? After all, Rubio's opportunistic embrace of sugar subsidies, at the behest of a major donor, is the kind of soiled compromise we often accept.
But immigration isn't just another issue, like farm subsidies or taxes or even battling radical Islam. Immigration is a meta issue, one that affects almost every arena of national life — from politics to education to jobs to security to health care to national cohesion. If we set taxes too high, we can lower them later. If we let the Navy get too small, we build more ships. But if we get immigration wrong, we can't undo it: People are not widgets, and we can't ask for a do-over after adding 30 million green cards in a decade.
What's more, the deep gulf in views over immigration between elites and the public, between globalists and patriots, has given immigration a symbolic importance as a marker of legitimacy. As Ramesh Ponnuru has written, "A hard line on immigration, however it is defined, is now part of the conservative creed."
In effect, Rubio is an Angela Merkel Republican — genuinely conservative on most every issue, except the one that counts above all others.
For this reason alone, he should be denied the nomination. If he were to succeed in getting it, the donor class and its politicians would take away the lesson that they can betray the voters all they want on this potentially nation-breaking issue, and simply talk their way out of it. Voltaire wrote, in Candide, that "it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others." Rubio's betrayal doesn't warrant the gallows, but he must be denied this prize, "in order to encourage the others."
This doesn't mean he's finished in politics. He's a young man with immense political gifts and has plenty of time before 2020 or 2024 to atone in Congress for his transgressions and earn back the people's trust. If he were to run for governor of Florida, for instance, he could amass a record of fidelity to immigration law by, say, passing mandatory E-Verify for his state. Even before then, during the remainder of his Senate term, he could work with Jeff Sessions to introduce legislation to end chain migration and abolish the Visa Lottery — or, at the very least, withdraw his sponsorship of the anti–American-worker I-Squared H-1B bill.
If Marco Rubio can convincingly turn away from his Merkelian past, he can have a bright future, perhaps even become the 46th or 47th president of the United States. But to nominate him in 2016 would be a profound mistake.
National Review Online, February 8, 2016