I’m not easily shocked by Republican pols cutting wild capers for the benefit of the almighty Conservative Base. And Lord knows I was arguing the GOP had a cold nativist heart even when many pundits were convinced the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill was all but a done deal.

Still, the lurch of the entire Republican Party into virtual Know-Nothing territory during the last sixteen months or so has been amazing. It seemed appropriately ironic that the trend might be capped by Rick Perry–the 2012 cycle’s chief victim in the presidential field of anti-immigrant hatefulness–being lifted back into contention for 2016 by bellowing with rage at the scofflaws on the border. But no: the incredible self-abasement of Marco Rubio is worse. Here’s a Peter Hamby report from South Carolina that leaves you wondering whether the whole show was a put up:

The Florida senator and likely presidential candidate was the headline speaker at a “Faith and Freedom” barbecue fundraiser for Rep. Jeff Duncan, the tea party-backed congressman who represents what many Republicans consider the most conservative House district in the state.

After a succession of speeches from South Carolina Republican notables like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Nikki Haley, Rubio took the stage in Anderson to applause, but was quickly interrupted by a group of protestors — self-identified DREAMers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally as minors — who loudly heckled the senator for abandoning last year’s sweeping immigration package when it was met with harsh resistance on the right.

For an ambitious Republican looking to prove his conservative bona fides and rub out the stain of working with Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, the interruption was something of a gift. A plugged-in Republican operative turned to a reporter and observed dryly, “I couldn’t think of a better way to make Rubio look good in South Carolina.”

The audience of nearly 1,200 conservatives jeered the protestors as Rubio waited for them to be escorted out of the Anderson Civic Center, scolding them in the process.

“We are a sovereign country that deserves to have immigration laws,” Rubio said. “You’re doing harm to your own cause because you don’t have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States.”

Steve King couldn’t have said–or it appears, screamed–it better.

The crowd cheered him on. One elderly audience member shoved a protester as he weaved his way through the tables. Another, 73-year old Army veteran Turk Culberson, angrily stalked them out of the building, clutching his cane as if it were a baseball bat.

Greg Sargent nicely sums up the vast distance Rubio has traveled on the issue he once thought would make him invincible as a Tea favorite who could attract Latino voters:

In 2012, the “great Hispanic hope of the Republican Party” worked behind the scenes to move his own legislative version of legalization for undocumented immigrants brought here illegally as children. That was rendered inoperative when Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protecting many DREAMers from deportation. But in 2013, Rubio played a key role in passing immigration reform through the Senate with a path to citizenship for the 11 million.

Since then, Rubio has been making amends for his apostasy, apparently with an eye towards running for president next year, and here he is declaring to South Carolina conservatives that DREAMers are “doing harm to your own cause because you don’t have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States.”

I’d add that once he became identified with the Senate reform bill, Rubio’s support among Republicans in 2016 trial heats just simply collapsed overnight, dropping by more than half in much of the country. So he started scampering away from his own handiwork. Having once viewed his immigration reform advocacy as part and parcel of his appeal to Republicans, he realized he was on the horns of a dilemma. So how he’s grabbed onto the let’s-deport ’em all horn, which isn’t easy because the bull is still in the midst of a rage-filled charge to the Right.

Hamby seems to think Rubio mended a lot of fences in South Carolina. But I hope no one is under the illusion he can do any better now among Latinos in a general election than, say, his fellow Cuban-American (or I guess he is really a Cuban-Canadian-American) Ted Cruz, which is to say not well at all. He decided he needed Turk Culberson more than he needed Latinos, and his choice will surely be respected by those it affects.

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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.