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Marco Rubio’s Immigration Backtrack Destroys Theory of His Candidacy

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Rubio’s Lurch to the Right Raises Questions of Leadership & Trustworthiness, While Alienating Latino Voters

Florida Senator Marco Rubio is set to be the newest official entrant into the 2016 Republican presidential field.  Much of the spotlight and analysis on Sen. Rubio focuses on his immigration record, especially his infamous backtracking away from the Senate’s 2013 immigration bill he helped author.  If the larger theory to Sen. Rubio’s candidacy is centered around supposed fresh leadership and his ability to appeal to Latino and other fast-growing portions of the electorate, Rubio’s repositioning on immigration destroys that theory.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, “Marco Rubio now embraces anti-immigration positions that are opposed by most of the Latino and immigrant population.  Instead of demonstrating fresh leadership, Rubio’s immigration backtracking looks an awful lot like like the old way of thinking, with the result that Senator Rubio is now distrusted by both sides in the immigration debate.  Rubio’s opposition to immigration executive action is at odds with the stance of most of the public and nine-of-ten Latino voters.  His criticism of the broad reform bill the once championed, and his embrace of the vacuous ‘border security first’ soundbite instead, also show he is unable or unwilling to stand behind real solutions that move this country forward.”

Read up on AV’s take on Senator Rubio’s immigration record here as well as our new report on the 2016 Republican field and immigration at the new America’s Voice 2016 site: http://AmericasVoice.org/2016.   

Sen. Rubio’s regression on immigration embodies the larger challenges for a GOP presidential field that is attempting to appeal to hardline conservatives in the primary without alienating general-election voters as Mitt Romney did in 2012.  As America’s Voice outlined in our recent report on 2016 Republicans and immigration, “secure the border first” is a political soundbite that has nothing to do with the real state of border security.  It’s a claim at odds with the real facts on the ground; a purposeful ignoring of the tremendous resources and expenditures already devoted to the border; and an invitation to “move the goalposts” and manipulate the security metrics so as to perpetually declare an insecure border and keep kicking the can down the road.  As the Wall Street Journal has editorialized: “Republicans who claim we must ‘secure the border first’ ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn’t border security.  It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.”

Similarly, a September 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 52% of the public viewed this phrase as an excuse to block immigration reform rather than a legitimate concern to deal with before tackling broader reforms.  In Latino Decisions polling, by a 66-27% margin, Latino voters viewed the “border-first” talking point as an excuse, rather than a legitimate concern.

Sen. Rubio is also a vocal opponent of immigration executive action, with a voting record in favor of ending DACA and DAPA programs, which are overwhelmingly popular with Latino voters.  As someone who oncecounseled compassion for undocumented immigrants and seemed to understand the interconnectedness of Latino citizens, green card holders, and undocumented residents, this is quite a departure from previous positions and a major liability for the senator, should he make it past the primary to face Latino voters in the general election.

Indeed, 2013 Latino Decisions polling of Latino undocumented immigrants found that 85% have a family member who is a U.S. citizen.  Meanwhile, 58% of Latinos who voted in the 2014 midterms reported knowing an undocumented immigrant.  While immigration reform with a path to citizenship and Obama’s executive actions are largely popular with broader electorate, support is even stronger among Latino voters because of this direct, personal connection.

Latino Decisions released a summary of Latino public opinion on Rubio, finding that only 31% of 2014 Latino midterm voters viewed Rubio favorably, while 36% viewed him unfavorably (in Florida, Rubio is similarly underwater with Latino voters by a 39%-42% margin).  As Latino Decisions assessed:

“Latino support for Rubio was largely contingent upon his immigration positions.  If he took a leadership role in advancing comprehensive reform (as he did with the Gang of 8), 54 percent of Latino voters said they were likely to vote for him in the next election (with 21 percent ‘very likely’). However, if Rubio focused on security/border control priorities (which does not address the status of the 11 million undocumented currently  living in the U.S.) Latino support for Rubio dropped to only 29 percent; a substantial difference of 25 points.”

Said Tramonte: “Rubio’s current stance on immigration is hardly presidential.  He talks about what he’s against — Obama’s executive actions — and when it comes to what he’s for, he holds on to the vacuous Republican ‘border security first’ sound bite like a life jacket.  Guess what?  Americans want a secure border, but they also want broader immigration reforms.  They’re looking for leadership from their leaders, and when it comes to immigration they’re getting none of that from Senator Rubio.”