I've been trying to figure out a way to explain the immigration battle currently taking place between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio that won't make your eyes glaze over. Okay, here goes: Cruz, during this week's presidential debate, said, in response to a challenge from Rubio, that he's "never supported legalization" of undocumented immigrants. But in 2013, he proposed an amendment to the bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay here legally, though they couldn't seek citizenship. He said at the time that, under his amendment, the undocumented could become legal permanent residents, and therefore could "come out of the shadows and be legalized." On the other hand, the bill itself, crafted by the Senate's so-called Gang of Eight, which included Marco Rubio, contained a path to citizenship, not just legal status.
Given how Republican voters feel about the undocumented, Rubio's attack in the debate could be paraphrased thus: Hey, my position on immigration a couple of years ago was full of that horrible amnesty, but your position was nearly as bad, Ted. Which is why I don't understand Rubio's reasons for pressing the attack this hard. Nor do I understand why Fox's Bret Baier, essentially acting as an agent for the Republican Establishment and the Rubio campaign, thinks his grilling of Cruz on Fox was a win for Rubio and the Establishment.
Yes, every time this is brought up, doubts about Cruz form in the minds of immigrant-hating Republican voters. But those same immigrant-hating Republican voters are also reminded anew that Marco Rubio helped write an "amnesty" bill. Every time this is discussed, Rubio is linked to a moment in his career you'd think he'd want brought up as little as possible.
Now, Cruz might survive this. He says his amendment was intended as a poison pill -- a way of showing that Democrats wouldn't vote for a bill that reformed other aspects of U.S. immigration policy if a path to citizenship wasn't offered. Many observers, such as Greg Sargent of The Washington Post, say that's accurate -- although Tierney Sneed of Talking Points Memo says that people who worked on the bill at the time insist that Cruz is misrepresenting what he was doing. Nevertheless, his fans might accept his explanation.
But even if this line of attack hurts Cruz, it's not going to help Rubio, because any day we're talking about the Gang of Eight is a bad day for Rubio's campaign, given the anti-immigrant feeling in the GOP. So Rubio's campaign might be killing Cruz's and fatally wounding his own.
The New Republic's Brian Beutler knows who really stands to benefit from this battle:
Normally Cruz could blow all of this off by returning to the fault line. You supported the Rubio-Schumer-Obama amnesty bill and I tried to kill it. But Trump spoils that dichotomy. To the extent that there’s any grey area here at all, anti-immigration voters don’t have to choose between Rubio and Cruz. They can defect to Trump, whose mass deportation agenda is crystal clear.
As Beutler's headline puts it:
The Rubio-Cruz Clash Has Donald Trump Laughing All the Way to the Bank
If immigrant-hating voters become disillusioned with Cruz, they have a clear alternative -- and it sure as hell isn't Rubio.
Crossposted at No More Mister Nice Blog