Much of the political world has been buzzing this week about the long-awaited fight between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz over immigration policy. It was only a matter of time before this dispute took center stage, and now that it has, the outcome may very well play a key role in deciding who becomes the Republican presidential nominee.
At a distance, there doesn’t seem to be much to fight about. On one side, we see Rubio, who co-authored a reform bill celebrated by President Obama and Democrats, before he abandoned the initiative and betrayed his allies. On the other side, we see Cruz, who fought to kill the bipartisan bill that was deeply unpopular with the GOP’s conservative base.
But just below the surface, the details get more complicated. Rubio is eagerly pushing the argument that Cruz sponsored a provision that brought the Texan largely in line with the “Gang of Eight,” while Cruz insists his measure was a poison-pill amendment intended to derail the entire legislative push. There’s been quite a bit of reporting on this, though I tend to agree with Sahil Kapur and Greg Sargent that Rubio’s case is unpersuasive and Cruz is on firmer ground.
And while I’m sure this back and forth will continue for a while, The Guardian flagged one little detail that jumped out at me.
Arizona senator John McCain, who co-authored the Senate immigration bill with Rubio, said his impression was that Cruz’s posturing did indeed amount to a flip-flop.“Senator Cruz has done a remarkable 180, but you can do that nowadays when you’re running for president,” McCain said when asked by the Guardian if he believed Cruz genuinely supported legalization.
McCain, who’s never made any secret of his distaste for Ted Cruz, also told the Washington Post that the Texan’s alleged reversal is “remarkable,” because what Cruz said in 2013 is “not in keeping with what he’s saying now.”
As a factual matter, McCain’s argument is dubious, but as a political matter, it’s pretty ridiculous that McCain, of all people, would try to condemn immigration flip-flopping.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane. In George W. Bush’s second term as president, McCain helped champion a comprehensive immigration reform bill, working with Democrats on a bipartisan package that enjoyed the support of the Republican White House. In January 2008, as a presidential candidate, McCain abandoned his effort, declaring publicly that he would vote against his own bill to make his party’s far-right base happy.
Six months later, McCain changed his mind again, saying the reform bill he wrote, but then opposed, would be his “top priority” if elected president.
In 2013, McCain returned to where he started, working on a bipartisan, comprehensive reform package, comparable to the one he’d helped champion in 2007. He then changed his mind again a year later, distancing himself from his own bill’s policy measures.
Now look again at McCain’s quote from yesterday: “Senator Cruz has done a remarkable 180, but you can do that nowadays when you’re running for president.”
And if anyone can speak to this with great authority, it’s John McCain.