What to make of this? I'll raise a few theories below, but here's the Washington Post's Greg Sargent on supposed internal conflict within the 'Gang of Eight:'
Republican and Democratic senators in the “gang of eight” immigration reform group gave Marco Rubio an earful at a private meeting this week, telling him they were frustrated with his public embrace of overly conservative border security measures and his failure to adequately communicate with them over strategy, which they said was putting reform at risk, I’m told. The details of the private meeting on Wednesday – which were shared with me by a source familiar with the episode — shed new light on the delicate behind the scenes strategic calculations the gang of eight is making as it seeks to navigate its proposal past conservative opposition through the Senate. The meeting hints at the true nature of the collective kabuki that the gang of eight is engaged in as it seeks to create just enough space to the right for Republicans to embrace the bill — without moving it so far to the right that it alienates Democrats. Publicly, Senators have mostly remained mum as Rubio has flirted with conservative demands for more border security. But in the private meeting, Republican and Democratic senators in the gang of eight expressed “frustration” with Rubio over the manner in which he publicly embraced the John Cornyn amendment, which mandates hard border security “triggers” as a precondition for citizenship in a manner Dems find unacceptable, the source tells me...As feared, uncommitted Republican Senators are beginning to clamber aboard the Cornyn “hard trigger” express.
Like Allahpundit, I'm deeply skeptical that Rubio has actually run afoul of fellow 'gang' members by endorsing John Cornyn's stricter border enforcement provisions, which Rubio reportedly helped draft in private -- though Cornyn's office disputes that claim. Sargent is right to confine "hard trigger" to quotation marks because although that amendment is an improvement over the bill's status quo, the notion that it's a draconian non-starter for Democrats is absurd. I heard initial buzz from sources close to the gang of eight's inner workings that Chuck Schumer was prepared to accept Cornyn's plan. I openly wondered why on earth the New York Senator wouldn't at least feign initial opposition to the proposal, only to "cave" later and give conservatives a "win." That's how this sort of kabuki works. Sure enough, within a day or two, Harry Reid was tearing into the Cornyn amendment as a "poison pill," or whatever. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have used similar language, surprising nobody. (Again, go back and read what Cornyn has proposed. It's not even remotely "harsh" or unreasonable). I presumed this was all pure theater, but then Rubio pivoted to co-authoring yet another amendment with Tom Coburn, which will almost certainly water down the already watered-down Cornyn enforcement package. Remember, the only plan that would have required genuine security triggers before the government grants provisional legalization to millions died on the Senate floor last week.
The Rubio/Coburn development has me rethinking some previous assumptions. Maybe the Left flank really doesn't intend to eventually relent on the Cornyn amendment. Maybe the kabuki is actually happening on the Right, where conservatives are offering up stronger enforcement paradigms to assuage the base, knowing full well that the Senate will never adopt anything that even approaches a serious improvement. And perhaps the Left is getting a little greedy. They might have concluded that (a) Republicans like McCain and Graham are giving them sufficient political cover to reject any idea that treads beyond illusory baby steps, and (b) Rubio's become too invested in the outcome to walk away now. They might be right on both counts. In any case, all of this maneuvering on behalf of "amnesty" must be corroding Rubio's standing among Republicans nationally, right? Wrong:
Rubio clocks in at a whopping +47 favorable rating among Republicans, second only to Mitt Romney's running mate and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan -- who also happens to support a big bipartisan compromise on immigration reform. Be sure to note Chris Christie's numbers; he's at the bottom of that pile, but still registers a healthy +28 favorability mark among Republicans. Among all adults, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents, guess who sails to the front of the class? That's why I suspect AP is right when it comes to Rubio's potential for rehabilitation among those who are currently livid at him for basically spearheading the Gang of Eight effort:
If he hangs in there and the bill passes, he’ll get all sorts of media love as the “new leader of the GOP,” a man who “makes things happen in Washington,” blah blah. You and I will pound the table and swear that we’ll never, ever vote for him in 2016, and that might be true — for awhile. But strange things happen. What if Christie emerges as a real threat to take the nomination with moderate support? Suddenly Rubio becomes the lesser of two evils, a guy who’s much more conservative than Christie on balance, who has a pretty good record if you exclude the whole “terrible immigration bill” thing, who’s darned electable against Hillary and isn’t that what’s really important? We’ll talk ourselves into it and Rubio knows it. And then, once he’s the nominee, any righty who threatens to stay home in protest of his embarrassing betrayal of border security (and betrayal of the voters who elected him in 2010 as an anti-amnesty candidate) will be considered an utmost traitor to the conservative cause. Again, Rubio knows all this.
Any conservative who's already confidently pronouncing Rubio DOA in 2016 because of his immigration work is forgetting very recent history.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography