Steve Deace
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A friend of mine, Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak, tweeted on Tuesday night that if immigration reform goes through Congress this year "it will almost solely be due to" Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

To which I replied: "you break it, you buy it."

There are two different conservative narratives about Rubio's dalliance with John McAmnesty and the other bi-partisan group of senators on board with his plan. The first is the glowing words coming from Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and now Rush Limbaugh. Just one day after Limbaugh made national news by trashing Rubio's plan, he praised the senator effusively when Rubio appeared on his show to defend himself. That's a big win for Rubio. Going on offense to defend himself is a much better approach to this scalding hot issue than Monday's photo op with McAmnesty, Charles "we don't need no stinking Constitution" Schumer, and Bob "where the underage hookers are" Menendez that I criticized in my latest Business Insider column.

But while winning the support of three of the biggest name conservatives when it comes to the air war is important, perhaps even more crucial is winning the support of organizations that actually put conservative boots on the ground. And Rubio still has a ways to go where that's concerned.

For example, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, one of the largest grassroots conservative organizations in the country, said that Rubio has essentially "kneecapped himself for 2016" (referencing the senator's presumed presidential ambitions). In a column titled "Rubio Amnesty Plan Way Worse than I Thought," AFA's policy director referred to Rubio's plan "as the same old bait and switch" conservatives have fallen for in the past.

Fischer adds "the solution Rubio is offering is the same one that created the mess we’re trying to clean up right now. It’s impossible not to think of the reigning definition of insanity as you listen to Republicans gamely expect magical results to come from 'solutions' that have never worked in the past and will never work in the future."

Fischer points out that it's impossible to deal with the issue of illegal immigration until you first realize that "illegals are not here for the citizenship, they are here for the benefits. The illegals who come here from Mexico come from a socialist state, where they are accustomed to thinking that it’s the government’s job to hand out goodies, and since America is richer than Mexico, they can get more goodies here, so here they come. They could care less about citizenship."

Erick Erickson of ?Red State?, who just signed on to become a Fox News contributor, says "I don't like Marco Rubio's plan." What's particular interesting about that is Erickson admits immigration is one issue where he leans to the left of most of his readers, and even he says "I think this plan is warmed over McCain-Kennedy and will do nothing to solve the problem."

Specifically, Erickson says the Rubio plan "is clearly written by a group of men who seemingly love government, but do not love free markets, small businesses, or individuals. It is a plan based on faith in government, not free enterprise or the American people. It does nothing to actually solve our immigration problems, but hides behind the construct of 'comprehensive' reform. Along the way, it potentially adds more people to already overwhelmed entitlement programs, but then that too is another kicked can." Rubio responded to Erickson’s criticism in a thorough rebuttal, saying “(McCain-Kennedy) created a special pathway to citizenship” and his plan does not. Rubio also says if the final bill the president signs does include that language “I will not support it.”

It appears to me the GOP is split into three, evenly divided camps on the issue. To be the GOP presidential nominee in 2016, Rubio needs to win two out of three.

The first camp is comprised of party establishment people and libertarians like Judge Andrew Napolitano. Those two camps want Rubio's plan to happen for different reasons. Pandering is in the bloodstream of the feckless Republican Party establishment. On the other hand, Napolitano and other libertarians are philosophically for open borders. Remember when Ron Paul said during the last presidential campaign he was against a border fence because he's more concerned about a government trying to keep people from getting out more than letting people in? Although Rubio has won over these people this is not an issue that drives them to the polls in a primary.

This next third does get out and vote on this issue, and this third is against anything that even sniffs of amnesty. As Congressman Steve King said on Twitter Monday morning, they don't want to "pardon lawbreakers." They not only think mass deportation is feasible, they think it's a must. If getting something passed that a leftist President of the United States was willing to sign into law is Rubio's goal, then he was never going to win over these people no matter how he approached the issue from there.

The jury is still out on the third and final group, and this is the group Rubio cannot afford to lose if he has any hopes of being the 2016 nominee. These people are mostly principled conservatives who believe in the rule of law, as well as national security/sovereignty. At the same time, they either don't think mass deportations are feasible and/or moral given how entrenched some of the families in question are. They're also concerned about the GOP's much-discussed Hispanic problem, but they also vehemently opposed McCain-Kennedy in 2007. Therefore, the main reason these people would be willing to go along with Rubio's risky gambit here is their belief in Rubio himself.

This is why I've been following how he's approaching the issue so closely, because for this third and decisive group the issue isn't the issue at this point. The issue is Rubio, and the question is do you really believe he's the transformative leader you've been told that he is, or are we falling yet again for another amnesty banana in the tailpipe?

Put it all together and it’s clear this will either make Rubio a future President of the United States, or yet another tombstone in the graveyard of lost conservatives hoodwinked by the beltway culture.

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Steve Deace

Steve Deace's nationally-syndicated radio show airs coast-to-coast each weeknight from 9-Midnight eastern, including many of the Salem Radio Network's top conservative talk stations in markets like New York City, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Minneapolis. His radio program has been featured in major media such as Fox News, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, The Weekly Standard, and National Review among others. In 2013 he wrote the second-most shared column of the year for USA Today, defending "Duck Dynasty" and traditional American values. In addition to being a contributor for Town Hall.com, Deace is also a columnist for The Washington Times. He is also the author of the new book Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again, which includes a foreword by David Limbaugh and is endorsed by a who's who of conservative leaders. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.