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Marco Rubio: Dumb as a Post? Or Clever as a Fox?

A strategy that aims to alienate some on the right in order to win with social conservatives, as well as more establishment types in the party? Do the math. If Rubio could build a bridge between establishment Republicans (always leery of the socons) and social conservatives (resentful of the establishment's disdain), that would constitute a near majority of the Republican Party. It would certainly make him competitive in Iowa, where social conservatives dominate the party, and New Hampshire, where more establishment Republicans do well. Meanwhile, as usual, the more conservative candidates would be knocking each other off in primary after primary as they did in 2008 and 2012.

Is Rubio that clever? His personal story, as compelling as it is, will only take him so far. It has gotten him a seat at the table -- along with an original appeal to tea party types who cheered his embrace of their issues. But while the luster appears to have rubbed off Rubio's reputation with many on the right, he may have a means to still champion their causes -- including opposition to immigration reform.

That's right. Rubio has been warning since the compromise measure emerged that his support was dependent on securing a stronger border-security provision. And on Thursday, he announced that any attempt to add an amendment granting gay partners overseas the right to a green card would cause him to withdraw his support. Are we to believe that he wasn't aware that any change in the compromise on closing the border would be a deal killer for Democrats? Are we to believe that during the Gang of Eight negotiations the subject of gay partners being allowed to petition for their spouses living overseas to receive a green card never came up? Are we to believe Rubio was unaware of the issue and that some Democrat wouldn't try and add it as an amendment to the bill when it reached the floor?

Two deal busters for Rubio gives him an easy "out" to oppose the bill. And the Democrats appear at this point to be more than willing to oblige him.

Imagine if Rubio were to renounce his support because of one or more of the poison pills mentioned above and lead the charge against the bill in the Senate. Many on the right won't be taken in by his conversion, but others will be. It could be that Rubio has been performing a Kabuki dance with regards to immigration reform all along and that he never had any intention of supporting a comprehensive bill in the first place.

All of this presupposes that Rubio is a very clever man -- which he is -- and that he has a political subtlety that rivals Machiavelli -- which is doubtful. Still, all the candidates have a limited path to the nomination, and Rubio has, for good or ill, banked on his leading role on immigration reform as a catalyst to help him break out of the crowd.

Whether his intentions were motivated by "compassion," as he claims, or political calculation, as it appears, is hardly relevant. What matters is the outcome. And by the looks of things, Rubio may have positioned himself to reap the benefits of being both for and against immigration reform.