There’s a saying in Spanish, es de sabios cambiar de opinión. Roughly translated, “it is of wise people to change their minds.”
According to this dicho Senator Marco Rubio is wise. On the issue of immigration he has evolved from opposing to supporting immigration reform that includes a citizenship option. For immigration advocates this is indeed a wise issue evolution. From a larger political view it is also refreshing to see a politico buck the trend of partisan inflexibility.
However being wise doesn’t necessarily translate into being politically practical. Senator Rubio’s recent change in position puts him in a corner–he will not get the base of his party to join him and his immigration advocacy will never be as good as that of the Democrats.
In less than three years Senator Marco Rubio has gone from a locally known Florida state legislator to a presidential contender. It may not seem it now, but Rubio was a Tea Party baby whose meteoric rise is owed to the likes of Sarah Palin and Senator Jim DeMint.
Not that long ago Senator Rubio eschewed talking about immigration. When pressed on the issue he would state his firm objection to the citizenship option and reiterate the line about immigration reform coming only after a strengthening of the border.
Today we not only see Rubio having changed his position on immigration we see him as the GOP face of immigration reform. Gone are the days of immigration dodge ball for the Florida Senator. As a Washington Post editorial noted this weekend Rubio has stepped it up on immigration – a very good thing if you are one of the millions of undocumented persons or if you’re looking to broaden your electoral base, say for a national run in 2016….
Rubio’s bolder yet softer approach on immigration should not be confused with a general turn in the Republican Party’s strategy. Such a party-wide cambio de opinion will not happen anytime soon for three reasons:
1.) The 2010 Redistricting. The Tea Party surge in 2010 coincided with redistricting. As such, the highly conservative views of the Republican Party were safely drawn into districts where compromise, let alone softening are punished.
2.) Need to hang tough. The GOP ceded ground to the Democrats on the fiscal cliff and they have also indicated that they are going to avoid a debt ceiling standoff. In other words, they’ve given in on some big issues and in looking to keep some of their pride they’ll pick an issue, immigration to look tough on.
3.) Steve King. The Republican representative from Iowa reintroduced legislation to change the 14th amendment to keep “Anchor Babies” out. The GOP with the exception of Jeb Bush, now Marco Rubio, and a handful of others, see immigration reform as S.B. 1070 and stopping Anchor Babies.
Senator Marco Rubio’s evolution on the issue of immigration does not help him within his party. Remember what happened to Governor Rick Perry in the 2012 Republican primary because he “had a heart” when it came to immigration? While Democrats, Independents and some moderate Republicans may like Rubio’s new stance, its does him no good with the base.
If Rubio wants to have a shot at the presidency it doesn’t matter how popular he is with the general electorate; he first has to get through his party’s conservative primary base.
And in thinking about the general electorate, specifically Latinos, Rubio will never be good enough. No matter how big and bold his immigration proposal is, the President’s will be bigger and bolder. In the aftermath of immigration reform what voters will remember is not that Senator Rubio tried but that President Obama did it.
I applaud the Senator for his cambio de opinión. But I can’t help but see how he’s gotten himself between a Democratic rock and a Republican hard place.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an NBC Latino and MSNBC contributor, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin.