Will President Rubio Run For a Second Term?

After a few weeks of Rand Paul soaking up most of the air-time on the fantasy screens of conservative Republican activists, scribblers and gabbers, Marco Rubio is definitely back on a wave of Beltway excitement over the Senate Gang of Eight’s immigration proposal (which will reportedly be refined from a rickety-sounding “agreement in concept” to something more tangible tomorrow). Rubio was all over the Sunday shows yesterday, and had something for everybody: a lotta bipartisanship talk for those feeling the new breeze wafting through Washington, and some jesuitical distinctions differentiating a very difficult “path to citizenship” from “amnesty” for his friends in the Tea Party Movement.

It was such a tour de force that Buzzfeed‘s McKay Coppins felt confident more or less declaring the immigration debate over with Rubio well on his way to the White House:

Senator Marco Rubio’s straight line to the Republican presidential nomination seemed more certain than ever Sunday, as the Florida senator cemented his role as the face of immigration reform — and the future of the Republican Party — with a marathon round of Sunday talk show appearances that felt like a victory lap.

Coppins goes on to suggest the only real obstacle in the way of Rubio ’16 could be the incessant rumors (some Florida Democrats would probably call them “reports” or “facts”) about financial and ethical lapses in his rise to political Sun King status in the Sunshine state. And in a very interesting twist that I strongly suspect will be picked up by other fans of Rubio in the media, Coppins opines that the “endless vetting” of Rubio reflects a sort of derangement among his political enemies that most resembles the perpetual conservative belief that somewhere in Barack Obama’s past is a smoking gun that could derail his political career.

Democrats waiting for the other shoe to drop on Rubio’s record may be indulging some wishful thinking, said Manuel Roig-Franzia, a Washington Post reporter who wrote the 2012 biography, The Rise of Marco Rubio. While writing his book, the author spent significant time snooping around the senator’s home state, and while he heard plenty of tantalizing rumors about Rubio, none of them could be confirmed.

“I think it’s a bit of a meme that he hasn’t been vetted. There’s been a lot of stories written about the guy,” said Roig-Franzia. “The question is whether there’s anything in there that sticks and makes him look really bad. To date, I don’t think there’s been a knockout blow, either by the Florida press, which covered him aggressively and well, or the national press.”

Whoa, hold your horses here. What looks like a “victory lap” on immigration to Coppins looks to WaPo’s David Nakamura like a “politically risky path — one that could pay big dividends but is likely to become even more treacherous after details of the bill become public.” Here’s an example:

[S]hortly after Rubio’s talk-show appearances, NumbersUSA, a conservative anti-immigration group, issued a statement denouncing the “Obama-Rubio-Schumer” deal. And Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) charged that his colleagues had “abandoned” a pledge to make border security the highest priority.

More ominously, the Heritage Foundation, headed by none other than Marco Rubio’s “best friend” and mentor, Jim DeMint, is reportedly getting revved up to go after the Gang of Eight proposal. It’s also worth remembering that Rubio’s other big political mentor, Jeb Bush, recently published an entire book landing well to the right of any “path to citizenship” for undocumented workers. It was not, moreover, a hundred years ago when Rick Perry’s invincible-looking presidential bandwagon’s wheels fell off because he mispositioned himself as too friendly to undocumented workers (or at least their children), and Mitt Romney decided “self-deportation” was the safe middle ground in the GOP on the subject.

So just because (some) Republican elites have convinced themselves the GOP needs to lurch back towards (though not all the way to) George W. Bush’s comprehensive immigration reform proposal doesn’t mean the whole party has Gone There, or that Rubio is by dint of his own ethnic background and willingness to vouch for reform to the Tea Folk on the royal road to the presidency. Democrats with doubts about Rubio aren’t some lefty version of Breitbartian “vetters” of Obama, if only because they still have plenty of company across the aisle.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.