Yes, Immigration Will Hurt Rubio In Primaries – Daily Caller

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Out with the old conventional wisdom, in with the new. Now that Marco Rubio is an announced presidential candidate, we’re starting to hear how his immigration stance won’t be a deal-breaker for conservatives.

Although Rubio has since distanced himself from comprehensive immigration reform, he backed the Gang of Eight deal that was widely viewed as an amnesty. Why? Because the bill would have granted legal status to the vast majority of illegal immigrants in the United States.

Jonathan Bernstein argues Rubio can get past misgivings about amnesty: “[G]o back to Mitt Romney’s experience in 2012, when many thought he had no chance of getting the Republican nomination because of his approval of a Massachusetts health-care law that was compared to Obamacare.”

As long as Rubio plays the “us versus them” partisan politics correctly, Bernstein argues, the details of his immigration policy won’t matter much to rank-and-file Republican voters.

George W. Bush and John McCain won the Republican presidential nomination despite supporting similar immigration bills, he might have added.

You might notice that all three of these candidates have something in common: they were all the choice of the GOP establishment. Two of three entered the presidential race as presumptive frontrunners for the Republican nomination.

Rubio isn’t counting exclusively on establishment support, which is a good thing for him since Jeb Bush has the lock on that wing of the party for the moment. He needs a more conservative group of voters than Bush, McCain or Romney. Heterodoxy will hurt Rubio much more than it hurt the last three GOP nominees.

Romney strenuously denied any similarity between his Massachusetts health care law and Obamacare. Those denials weren’t very convincing to people familiar with the details of the two laws. Fortunately for Romney, most voters aren’t familiar with those details (and Romneycare was still a net negative for his campaign).

The immigration legislation Rubio supported wasn’t just similar to the bill pushed by Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Robert Menendez. It was the same bill, which is much harder to deny. Just like how McCain publicly aligned with Ted Kennedy on an immigration bill.

Bush didn’t make a major immigration push until after he was safely re-elected. Only McCain faced Republican primary voters after teaming up with Kennedy on immigration. And even as the establishment candidate, it clearly hurt his campaign.

The Washington Post reported that even longtime McCain loyalists “concede that, this time, it’s costing him dearly.” The story listed the damage:

Once seen as the inevitable Republican presidential front-runner, McCain is sinking in the polls, particularly in the all-important early-primary states. On conservative talk radio, he is lumped together with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and derided endlessly. His stance on immigration is making life ever more difficult for his fundraisers. He is expected to again lag behind rivals in money raised when the quarter ends on Saturday.

McCain’s campaign nearly went broke in 2007. “Clearly, we didn’t meet our goals for the second quarter in fund-raising, which I largely attribute to the immigration legislation that has dominated the news for the past two months, and his position is not too popular with our small donors,” McCain adviser Charlie Black told The New York Times.

The Times noted that some were even asking whether McCain would abandon his presidential campaign: “Following the defeat of the immigration bill last week, Mr. McCain told reporters he had no intention of leaving the race despite the setback on what has become a driving issue for him.”

McCain needed to lay off a large number of staffers and still might not have won the nomination if it weren’t for a series of well-timed implosions by leading opponents.

Romney, of all people, managed to use the immigration issue to beat back challenges from Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich in 2012. Both Perry and Gingrich were far more reliant on conservatives than McCain — just like Rubio.

Finally, it’s clear Rubio’s immigration gambit did hurt his numbers with the base. Since then, Rubio has taken another page out of the McCain playbook: he has walked away from his own immigration bill to court conservatives ahead of the primaries.

None of this means Rubio can’t win the nomination despite immigration, just like other Republicans before him. He also has the ability to rail against Barack Obama’s executive amnesty as a way of getting around Gang of Eight.

But 84 percent of Republicans are dissatisfied with current immigration levels, according to Gallup, with most of them wanting to see it decreased. Rubio has some work to do.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.