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

Florida Senator Marco Rubio almost certainly didn’t bargain for the kind of abuse he’s been taking over his leading role in shepherding the Senate version of immigration reform to the floor. As a member of the infamous “Gang of Eight” lawmakers who hammered out a compromise version of reform, it is widely believed that Rubio adopted immigration reform because he has his eye on the 2016 general election, where his credentials as a Republican who could work with Democrats to pass a major piece of legislation would make him more attractive to independents and conservative Democrats.

But Rubio has badly miscalculated the depth of anger generated against him by opponents of immigration reform in the Republican Party. The hard right is eviscerating Rubio, and it’s hard to believe that the young senator didn’t see it coming. Either he believes he can win the Republican nomination without its most passionate, engaged supporters, or he didn’t think his leadership in crafting legislation that fundamentally alters the character of the United States (and guarantees the GOP minority status for decades) would be a fatal blow to his hopes.

Writing at  American Thinker, Selwyn Duke notes:

If Marco Rubio and his fellow travelers want to hasten the death of traditional America, they are dead to me. Let’s ensure that their political careers rest in peace long before the republic does

Similar expressions of disgust and outrage directed against Rubio are common on the right these days.

It would seem that the Florida senator may be one of the dumbest politicians around if he expected a different response. Or is he? Does Rubio know something the rest of us don’t?

At the kickoff of a three-day conference for social conservatives, Marco Rubio was clearly among friends.

Rubio, the Florida Republican who has taken a significant amount of heat from conservatives for his role in helping craft a comprehensive immigration reform package, emerged from a Faith and Freedom Coalition luncheon as the clear star of the show. Rubio was the final speaker at the lunch, following Sens. Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, and Mike Lee.

[…]

The audience peppered his speech with shouts of “Amen!” and gave him a rousing standing ovation following his speech.

“He’s the best speaker,” said Joseph Byrd, a 19 year old from Augusta Georgia. “He’s very captivating.”

Could it be that Rubio is a lot smarter than it might appear? The Florida senator tapped into the Christian value of “compassion” during his speech when explaining his support for immigration reform, and it seemed to resonate with his audience of activists:

“At the essence of our immigration reform is compassion. Is the idea that not only do we believe that people of all walks of life can succeed if given the opportunity, we actually want that,” he said. “We want to be the place where they can succeed. Now clearly through an orderly process, through a legal process, but we believe these things. And we are motivated in that regard by our compassion.”

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.