Marco Rubio once looked like the Republican savior over immigration.
Now, to some conservatives, he seems as trustworthy as a door-to-door salesman.
From the right-wing talk-show hosts to local activists at town halls, many conservatives say they’re upset that Rubio’s talk and deeds conflict over comprehensive immigration reform.
“The problem is he sold this based on talking points,” said Jason Hoyt, an Orlando tea party activist, summing up the discomfort many conservatives have with the Florida Republican senator.
“He had four or five talking points, which sounded pretty good,” Hoyt said. “But then we saw the bill, and it was 1,200 pages of detail. And then there was article after article after article about how bad the bill was.”
So it’s not just policy (implementing a path to citizenship, increasing border security) that’s the problem. It’s trust.
It’s not that Rubio is perceived as two-faced. It’s that he has too many faces, the equivalent of a computer program that updates with the political mood:
• Rubio2008: The Florida House Speaker whose chamber squashed state-based immigration reform. At the time, he said immigration was a federal responsibility.
• Rubio2010: The upstart, long-shot candidate, who bested one-time Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, took a hard line on immigration and generally called a pathway to citizenship a mistaken “amnesty.”
• Rubio2013A: A future White House hopeful who rode a wave of positive media coverage to become, in Time magazine’s words, the Republican savior after the party was drubbed nationally in the 2012 elections. The bipartisan bill he helped hammer out contains what many conservatives see as “amnesty.”
• Rubio2013B: The establishment Republican who now barely talks immigration, unless he is asked about it during select interviews with friendly media or at little-advertised town hall-style meetings. Rubio wants to talk about his effort to defund Obamacare instead.
“He may win us back with that because that’s probably the worst thing,” Glen Leirer, a Panama City conservative told the Associated Press after a mid-August meeting there with Rubio.
During that meeting, Rubio responded to a question about his support for the immigration bill by noting all the woes with the existing system.
“If I presented that to you as my immigration plan, you would say that’s a terrible plan. That’s what we have right now,” he said. “What we have in place now, in many ways, is the de facto amnesty that I ran against.”
But Rubio didn’t run against “de facto amnesty.” His statements in debates and to reporters at the time show his words and tone were notably different in 2010.
In a debate, Rubio suggested illegal immigrants need to leave the country and then apply for citizenship. When a reporter asked whether that was “de facto amnesty,” Rubio didn’t answer, but later said “ ‘earned path to citizenship’ is basically code for ‘amnesty.’ ”
Now he backs an earned path to citizenship but says it’s not amnesty.
In The Shark Tank Blog, a South Florida conservative site that backed Rubio in 2010, commentator Javier Manjarres has criticized Rubio’s handling of immigration and his low-key tour of the state this month. The blog noted fellow GOP senators fighting Obamacare — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Mike Lee — were holding multiple events about the issue while “Senator Marco Rubio is missing in action.”