The rejection of Marco Rubio, especially and most damagingly by Trump supporters, is a colossal political miscalculation with dire political consequences that the Republican Party and conservative movement can scarcely begin to imagine. These forces did not merely reject but trashed, ridiculed, and nearly ruined a thorough and eloquent conservative who — most important — has a rare gift of communicating conservatism to the next generation and to entirely new demographics in a broadly appealing way unseen since Ronald Reagan. Worse still, Rubio was not only the one Republican who consistently beat Hillary Clinton in a general election, but the one who — especially contrary to Trump — does not thrust America’s fastest and most critical voting demographic of the 21st century to the Democratic Party; that is, Latinos.
Listen up, Republicans and conservatives: If you thought winning elections without the African-American vote has been difficult, watch and see how impossible it will be to win without Latinos. Rejecting Marco Rubio, especially for a Donald Trump nomination, cedes the huge Latino voting bloc to the Democrats for a long time. I never imagined that Latinos could end up voting Republican in even lower percentages than African-Americans do, but a Trump nomination will probably ensure it. How irrevocably disastrous that will be, and how breathtakingly shortsighted.
The Rubio rejection in the Republican Primary is a relief of massive proportions to the Democratic Party. The Democrats have dodged a major bullet. They are celebrating at DNC headquarters.
And no, this isn’t merely a matter of identity-politics pandering. Quite the contrary, the Rubio rejection in favor of Trump is so crushing because Rubio is that complete conservative who sells the vision better than anyone out there in the movement today. We haven’t had a winsome messenger like him since Reagan. He is a Reagan for the 21st century, but younger and more diverse. His vilification by the Trump forces in particular is a devastating opportunity lost.
Why have anti-Rubio people on the political right (Trump and non-Trump) done this? Why did they make this choice? The answer, as everyone knows, is first and foremost immigration. From the outset, the immigration issue was the elephant in the Rubio room.
I started noticing how immigration was being upheld as Marco Rubio’s unpardonable sin a couple of years ago. I was frankly amazed by the hostility. Sure, okay, the freshman senator did a bad vote on immigration, I shrugged, but this will cool. Nope, it never did, and seemingly never will. I have never seen, in all of my political life, such a single issue that has so held hostage a single conservative by a segment of conservatives. The level of purity and perfection demanded of Rubio and deemed forever elusive by one vote is jaw-dropping. Donald Trump, by contrast, makes ridiculously outrageous statements daily, hourly, by the minute, flip-flopping constantly, and he is forgiven reflexively by his acolytes. But for Rubio, this one vote on this one thing was his death-knell. It was like he signed his own death warrant when he signed on to the Gang of Eight. I swear the man could have signed The Communist Manifesto and conservatives would be more generous.
But it is not all conservatives. It is a certain segment of them, albeit sizable and vociferous. They are the anti-immigration conservatives, and Marco Rubio will not be their lone political prisoner. It is increasingly the wider conservative movement and Republican Party that are captive to this element.
What do we call them? I personally call them the Caveman Right, but I’ll more charitably label them the Anti-Amnesty Right or, better, simply the Immigration Right-Wing. I am speaking of a unique breed of right-winger who is fanatically obsessed with “immigration” (as he/she sees it) to the virtual exclusion of practically every other issue. No, I’m not saying that if you’re concerned about immigration that you’re in this category. Not at all. I’m referring to people who are so hysterical about this one issue that it subsumes all others. It is the hill they die on. To them, immigration trumps (there’s a Freudian slip) all else: tax cuts, defense spending, federal regulations, the Second Amendment, block granting welfare, Social Security, Obamacare, the HHS mandate, aborting unborn babies, protecting marriage and the family, ISIS, Putin, Iraq, Cuba, religious liberty, the IRS, the National Education Association, the Department of Education, the debt, a culture speeding to hell in a handbasket — none hold a candle to the raging importance of building a gigantic wall and shipping Mexicans back across the border.
These forces have become so vocal that they are forging a new third rail for Republican candidates seeking the presidency. Put this atop the new hierarchy of the new right. It is the new Holy Grail. A Republican who veers off the reservation on this one issue — yes, this single issue — is deemed irredeemable, heretical, incapable of salvation or redemption. The Pharisees stand with stones in hand. Their contempt cannot be mollified. Marco Rubio learned the hard way.
No wonder, too, that this red-hot rancor toward “illegals” makes many on the other side — including Latinos — think that Republicans don’t like Latinos. It is no shock that the GOP is losing Hispanics.
These right-wingers express their anti-immigrationism with a primal anger, a raw vitriol that is unbecoming of the better angels of conservatism, and that certainly gives at least the appearance (they will dispute this) of being as much anti-immigrant (Latino immigrant) as anti-illegal immigrant. Their manner of expression really does seem to embody the left’s worst caricature of the right as ultra-nationalistic xenophobes. And yes, there are a lot of them. And people reading this know exactly who I’m talking about.
I use the word “right-winger” rather than “conservative” because this inhabitant of the far right does not comport to the traditional lines of conservatism as we understand from, say, a Russell Kirk or William F. Buckley Jr. or Ronald Reagan. Really, Kirk would struggle with where to place them, as would Ronald Reagan.
Speaking in October 1983 to the house of conservatism, the Heritage Foundation, Ronald Reagan hazarded this loose non-definition of conservatism: “I [am] sometimes asked to define conservatism, and I must confess that, while I have the cream of the conservative intellectual movement before me, I’m tempted to use Justice Potter Stewart’s definition. He gave it for another subject, by the way. He said he couldn’t define it exactly, but ‘I know it when I see it.’”
Well, that also applies to this brand of right-winger I’m describing. You know it when you see it. I first met one of them at CPAC several years ago. The man was incensed, just plain livid at them “damned illegals.” This concerned him more than anything else — truly, truly anything and everything else. In the subsequent years, I’ve met more and more of them. This election cycle, they were larger than ever, angrier than ever, and rallied around Donald Trump, who has shrewdly exploited their worst fears. To them, Ted Cruz isn’t hardline enough on immigration, and Marco Rubio certainly isn’t. Ironically, Rubio actually better understands the nuances of this issue professionally and personally than just about anyone on the right or the left. His involvement with the Gang of Eight stemmed from his unique knowledge of the subject and desire to try to address it, even if imperfectly. He knew that no one — not even the worst demagogue — can or will succeed in actually shipping 11 million people back over the border. Isn’t going to happen.
But it was the treatment and assessment of Rubio by elements of the Immigration Right-Wing that is most instructive, and also helps to define them. An email that I received from one of them about two weeks ago sticks with me. I had written that Marco Rubio has an extraordinary 98% lifetime ranking from the American Conservative Union, which for years has done these ratings, basing them on thousands of Senate votes, a huge sample size. (Watch this video of Rubio at CPAC and tell me he’s not a conservative. Yeah, I know, I can picture you yelling at the video as you watch, “Gang of Eight, Marco! Gang of Eight!” That’s my point.)
If you don’t trust the American Conservative Union to measure conservatism, then how about the Heritage Foundation? Rubio’s Heritage Foundation scorecard is a 94%. He’s an A-plus conservative by expert standards. More than that, to repeat: he was the one bona fide conservative in the Republican field who consistently and easily beat Hillary Clinton in the general election.
And yet, this emailer did not want to hear it. He insisted that Marco Rubio is not a conservative because of his position on immigration — more specifically, his one vote on the “Gang of Eight” deal. And this emailer is, of course, far from alone. I have heard repeatedly from these people, especially the ones on fire for Donald Trump. They have come to flat-out detest Rubio, and took on Trump’s persona and penchant for insult as they excoriated a rising young conservative star who without question has a far more proven conservative record than Donald Trump. To them, however, Rubio’s immigration stance is the only thing that matters. It is loathsome, and thus he is loathsome — and he is thus not (by their standards) a conservative.
That, of course, is nonsense. We do not, cannot, never will and never should, judge someone’s conservatism by merely one bill let alone one policy issue. If you can check the box on 94 or 98 out of 100 conservative issues, it’s pretty hard to say you’re not a conservative. In fact, I know that many of those emailing me judging Marco impure would not themselves rank a 94 or a 98. I know some of them that are to the left of Rubio on, say, protecting unborn children or redefining marriage, which are more serious and direct breaches of literal ideological conservatism.
And so, the Immigration Right-Wing is comprised of those people who have so flipped out over Rubio’s position on one thing that they have forever banished him from their camp of conservatism and — moreover — have instead turned to Donald Trump. I wonder what their moment of catharsis would look like if they got a Donald Trump presidency. What is the Iwo Jima-like image? Is it a ceremonial moment when the last brick is added on the “incredible” and “super” 40-foot-high border wall? Does Trump himself place the final brick, to the sounds of cheers in a carefully staged “press conference”? Is it the moment that the first bus of illegals leaves Texas for Central America?
That better be one heck of a celebration.
Alas, let’s take this beyond Marco Rubio.
The deeper danger is the Immigration Right-Wing’s increasingly shocking influence on the Republican Primary, forcing Republicans who don’t take a hardline on immigration to do so and ratchet up the rhetoric to win the nomination, thus costing them terribly with Latino voters in the general election in November and future Novembers — and thereby losing the overall election to the hard-leftist. This happened to Mitt Romney in 2012. Mitt needed to practically grab a bullhorn and go to the border to prove to the Immigration Right-Wing that he wasn’t a closet communist.
And now, this could happen again in 2016. The hardline anti-immigration “Republican” in 2016, Donald Trump, does not beat Hillary in the polls. In fact, his strong nationalism fires up the Immigration Right-Wing but repels the wider population and the fastest growing demographic in America. Thus, Trump’s assuaging of the Immigration Right-Wing helps him greatly in the Republican Primary, but hurts him badly in the general election. And, conversely, the softer line by Kasich and previously by Rubio, which would help them with Latino voters in the general election against Hillary, unfortunately kills them in the primary because of the influence of the Immigration Right-Wing. This is a cankerous sore that has been festering and is now oozing into the open.
Thus, the Immigration Right-Wing is severely undermining conservative Republicans and their ability to win the White House. The obsessive vituperation on this one issue is a deadly vice that places the entire party and movement in a conundrum and no-win situation in the general election. It’s a firestorm that’s perfect for the left to win presidential elections.
Is there any way out of this between now and November? Possibly, yes. The only remaining option is a Cruz-Rubio presidential ticket that would attract rather than repulse Latinos. It is a ticket that would have the advantage of being truly conservative, even if the Immigration Right-Wing considers it fundamentally un-conservative because of Rubio’s impure presence, soiled forever by one immigration vote. Minus a Cruz-Rubio ticket, and especially if Donald Trump becomes the nominee, the Republican Party is electorally doomed for a long, long time. It can kiss goodbye the huge Latino voting bloc that is having children while white Americans slow or stop reproducing and blindly send their kids to liberal colleges that brainwash them into “progressives” for Bernie and Hillary.
Trump supporters can scream and rage at me all they want (they certainly will), but facts are facts. You ignore reality at your political peril.