Rector To the Barricades!

The tightrope Marco Rubio’s taking in carrying the Republican Establishment’s water on immigration reform is illustrated once again by a Tea Party protest in Washington yesterday, as described by WaPo’s Dana Milbank:

Much of the scene was familiar: the yellow flags, the banners protesting tyranny and socialism, the demands to impeach President Obama and to repeal Obamacare. But there was a new target of the conservatives’ ire: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and his “amnesty” plan for illegal immigrants. The loathing of this onetime darling of the movement — Rubio rode the tea party wave to office in 2010 — could be seen in the homemade signs on the East Lawn of the Capitol proclaiming, “Rubio RINO” (Republican In Name Only) and “Rubio Lies, Americans Die.” Rubio antagonism became a main theme of the event, held by Republican Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Louie Gohmert (Tex.), Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and other opponents of the bipartisan Senate immigration legislation that Rubio negotiated.

But the story took an unexpected twist, for me at least:

The lawmakers called to the microphone the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, who delivered a sustained rebuke of the turncoat. “Marco Rubio,” he charged, “has not read his own bill.”

A chorus of boos rose from the crowd of several hundred.

Rector mocked the claim that the legislation wouldn’t cost taxpayers money.

“Liars! Liars!” the crowd replied.

“Senator Rubio says that [illegal immigrants] are going to have to pay a penalty, ’cause this bill is tough,” Rector said, derisively.

“Boo! Liar! Liar!”

“The thing I find most offensive of all is Senator Rubio’s staff saying that we need to have more low-skill immigrants because American workers can’t cut it,” Rector went on.

“That’s a lie! Lies! Boo!”

Rector asked rhetorically how many undocumented immigrants would receive government benefits. “How about seven, Senator Rubio, 7 million illegal immigrants?”

“Primary Rubio!” somebody in the crowd shouted.

Now Rector is an extremely familiar figure on the Washington think tank landscape, well-established as the city’s most predictably reactionary social thinker back when I was working full-time for the Progressive Policy Institute in the mid-90s. And yeah, he probably got himself acclimated to celebrity status last year, when he was the leading “authority” for the viciously mendacious claim of the Romney campaign that Obama had “gutted” welfare reform.

But I can’t recall a think-tank wonk doing a call-and-response to a political rally, particularly one aimed at shaming and purging a United States senator. I do trust Rector clocked out at Heritage before mounting the barricades, and let that 501(c)(3)’s legal counsel know what he was up to. After all, the IRS is on a witch hunt against conservatives who are just minding their own business and exercising their First Amendment right to enjoy tax subsidies while whipping up Tea Party crowds to burn heretics and “take back their government.”

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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.