For an ambitious Republican looking to prove his conservative bona fides and rub out the stain of working with Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, the interruption was something of a gift. A plugged-in Republican operative turned to a reporter and observed dryly, "I couldn't think of a better way to make Rubio look good in South Carolina." The audience of nearly 1,200 conservatives jeered the protestors as Rubio waited for them to be escorted out of the Anderson Civic Center, scolding them in the process. "We are a sovereign country that deserves to have immigration laws," Rubio said. "You're doing harm to your own cause because you don't have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States."
For many involved in the debate, Rubio's threat rang hollow. As the White House already realizes, Republicans refuse to work on immigration anyway.
But while the Florida Republican's warning drew chuckles among stakeholders yesterday, Peter Hamby's report on a Rubio appearance in South Carolina this week was far less amusing. The conservative senator was in the Palmetto State to campaign alongside far-right Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), but was interrupted at an event by Dream Act kids.
According to the CNN report, not only did the audience cheer Rubio on, one attendee "angrily stalked" the Dream Act kids out of the building, clutching a cane "as if it were a baseball bat."
Greg Sargent called it a "seminal moment," which it definitely was. Two years ago, when Rubio was still an enthusiastic supporter of his own plan for comprehensive immigration reform, the senator was interrupted by young Dreamers, and instead of scolding them, the Floridian was gracious and sympathetic in response.
Rubio circa 2012 didn't fully appreciate the anti-immigration animus that drives so much of contemporary Republican politics. The 2014 version of Rubio better understands the demands of the GOP's far-right base and has no qualms about pandering in advance of a likely national campaign.
But the shift comes at a cost.
When the Florida lawmaker was described as his party's "savior," the label was used in part because of Rubio's apparent appeal to Latino voters. After all, the senator himself comes from a family of Cuban immigrants and Rubio worked with a bipartisan group of colleagues to approve a popular reform package.
But Rubio has decided to throw all of that away, distancing himself from his own bill and publicly scolding Dream Act kids whom he'd previously fought to protect.
At this point, what's the difference between Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Steve King on immigration? As a substantive matter, the lines have been blurred.
All of this, of course, comes against the backdrop of a Republican Party that intended to be more inclusive following its "self-deportation" platform in 2012, but instead moved even further to the right.