Sen. Marco Rubio got cold feet this Saturday.
The Republican senator protested that the immigration negotiations were proceeding too hastily and that things were just moving too fast. Much like a jittery bride, he showed hesitancy in his commitment to taking the plunge—in this case, the immigration plunge.
Now the buzz is whether the whole effort at reforming immigration is in peril. If Marco Rubio walks away, will the immigration reform fall apart? Is Rubio the pivotal character is this drama?
No, he is not. There is a whole cast of characters in this saga. To begin there is the support of the president, and this time around it’s not only rhetorical but about establishing immigration as one of his legacy issues. Second, there is a majority in the Senate—from progressive Democrats to Chamber of Commerce Republicans—that want to see immigration reformed. And finally, the House of Representatives has also been rumbling along on its immigration reform plan. It may be more disjointed than the Senate one, but there is momentum on both sides of the aisle to find a solution.
Immigration reform does not depend on Rubio. Immigration reform needs Marco Rubio to the extent that the Cuban-American Republican can help streamline the process.
It’s Marco Rubio who needs immigration reform.
The senator may have his sights set running for president in 2016. But in order to have a realistic shot at the White House, Rubio has to point to a big accomplishment–immigration reform.
The strategy to reach the White House has two stages. First, secure enough support from the base and Independents (in states with open primaries) to win the Republican nomination. In order to do this, Rubio needs to show that he’s tough on immigration yet at the same time committed to a policy change that a majority of Americans (Republicans included) support.
The second part of the strategy, assuming he’s got the nomination, is to court the general electorate. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that Rubio is going to make an aggressive push toward Independent and Democratic Latinos. Just a couple of weeks ago, a poll from Latino Decisions asked Latino registered voters: Would you be more or less likely to vote for a Republican candidate in the future if Republicans take a leadership role in passing comprehensive immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship, or would it have no impact on your vote?
The question didn’t name names, but they might as well have–we’re talking about Rubio. And close to half of all of those Latinos surveyed said they would be more likely to support a Republican candidate. Keep in mind less than a quarter of the Latino population identifies as Republican.
General Latino support (not just Republican Cuban-Americans in South Florida), plus moderate Republican support, plus Independents could just be Rubio’s winning coalition.
His two-stage strategy of showing the GOP he’s conservative while signaling to the general population that he is also compassionate is the reason for his recent coyness on the issue of immigration.
The minute Rubio decided to reverse his campaign position on immigration (which was focused on enforcement only), he knew he would have to see immigration reform through to the end. In the meantime, his reluctance to make a commitment is simply a coy trick to attract attention. In the end, he’s in it for the long haul.
This post originally appeared on NBCLatino.com.