Since the byzantine course of comprehensive immigration reform legislation has gotten inextricably tied up with the political career of Marco Rubio (another development we can thank the Gang of Eight process for creating), figuring out what he wants is as important as figuring out how far Democrats will compromise on this issue, or whether John Boehner is really willing to gamble his Speakership on sealing a deal his GOP membership doesn’t want.

At TNR, Isaac Chotiner makes a very compelling case that Rubio’s self-interest is hardly congruent with the vision of Barack Obama handing him a commemorative pen after signing immigration reform legislation:

Consider two scenarios: the first is that a bill limps out of the senate, John Boehner agrees to put it up for a vote in the House (where it barely passes), and Obama signs it. Rubio is then forced to run in a G.O.P. primary in 2016 as the man who shepherded Obama’s “amnesty” through the senate. Good luck with that. Flip flopping, of the Mitt Romney variety, will be much harder once a bill has passed. In fact, the best reference is not Romney, but rather John McCain, who had little trouble morphing into Mr. “Build the Dang Fence” despite supporting Bush’s immigration reform push. If that effort had succeeded, his path to the 2008 nomination would have been trickier.

The second scenario is that Rubio passes a bill through the senate, and it dies in the House. Not only…does this not reflect anything about Rubio’s political skill, but it also allows him more rhetorical space. He can easily blame the failure on the Obama administration (“the president wouldn’t work with Republicans” etc.), and he can say to Hispanics in the general election, “I tried my best, and if I am president, I will bring Republicans along.” (It’s true that Bush couldn’t, but people have short memories.) Moreover, Rubio has been vocal enough that he doesn’t seem like a typical Republican restrictionist.

Sure makes sense to me. Now it’s possible, of course, that Marco Rubio isn’t going to run for president in 2016, and has set as his personal goal re-election by Floridians that year, and/or obtaining the deep and abiding appreciation of Republican business elites (and a decent number of Christian Right and libertarian activists) for making immigration reform happen against high odds. For all I know, he wants to be an Amigo, and is following John McCain’s path of becoming a Beltway media icon while maintaining a very conservative voting record.

But if Rubio does want to run for president, and does plan to spend some serious quality time chit-chatting at a hundred Pizza Ranches with the intensely nativist GOP caucus-goers of Iowa, it’s hard to imagine that signing-ceremony moment with Barack Obama serving as anything other than his political death warrant. As Chotiner points out, John McCain himself might have never survived his championship of immigration reform when he ran for president in 2008 had the 2007 bill actually been signed into law by George W. Bush. Substituting “Obama” for “Bush” in the equation makes the peril involved immensely larger, and thus makes Rubio a likely subversive in the final stages of the current legislation. That’s worth remembering since he’ll undoubtedly be a major player in what happens after a bill gets through the Senate.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.