Anyone who’s really been paying attention during 2013 has probably noticed the rather abrupt “course correction” undertaken by one-time Tea Party (and also MSM) heart-throb Marco Rubio. His conservative street creed (and not coincidentally, his standing as a potential 2016 presidential candidate in the early caucus/primary states) took a big hit from his championship of comprehensive immigration legislation in the Senate. When his bill started to crash and burn amidst cheers from his former right-wing fans, he didn’t just accept it and move on; he frantically started pandering on every available issue.

At Salon, Jim Newell notes the phenomenon, and more or less asks whether Marco Rubio even exists any more:

By late October, with his big achievement, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, looking dead in the House, he decided to abandon his own bill and support the House’s still-stalled piecemeal approach. He went so far as to oppose taking the issue to conference, for fear that the conference report might end up looking too much like that awful Senate bill that he wrote and promoted everywhere months earlier.

And now Rubio…is opposing this latest budget deal, issuing his stance against it approximately two seconds after Ryan and Patty Murray announced they’d reached an agreement.

If posturing against everything gives him a better chance of winning the presidential nomination in 2016, good for him. But what is exactly is left of “him” that would make him a compelling candidate in any way? He started out this year as a surprisingly interesting guy intent on achieving a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation. Now he’s a walking press release announcing a no vote, a master of the indistinguishable.

I sometimes wonder if I go to far in insisting that movement conservatives hold the whip hand in the GOP whether or not they’ve “won” or “lost” any particular fight in Congress or at the polls. But Marco Rubio seems to have no doubt at all who’s in charge in his party, and his virtual disappearance as anything other than a negative rubber stamp is a pretty strong signal to everyone else of the cost of crossing “the base.”

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.