THE BLOG

Immigration Reform: It Remains to Be Seen If Marco Rubio and Good Political Behavior Prevail

06/24/2013 05:12 pm ET | Updated Aug 24, 2013

It's startling what a difference a few days or months and a controversial issue can make in making or breaking a presidential contender, or even a politician at any level of government.

Just look at the recent tumble of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida from the heights of shimmering popularity among the professed tea party "core" of the Republican Party.

Remember immediately after the 2012 presidential election when Rubio immediately shot to the head of the pack of potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates? Then, he was touted as the messianic candidate for the GOP in the next presidential cycle, even after his water bottle break gaffe during his GOP retort the President Obama's State of the Union address in January.

After much of the political Monday-morning quarterbacking of the presidential contest centered on Mitt Romney's failure to attract the growing influence of the Hispanic vote, particularly in many battleground swing states like Rubio's Florida (Obama carried Florida's Hispanic vote 60 percent to 39 percent, an improvement over his 57 percent to 42 percent showing in 2008), Rubio was touted as the most viable GOP candidate to capture both that elusive Hispanic vote and the White House in 2016. It seemed that there was no stopping his momentum.

But now we know that such conjecture was short-lived and premature.

Riding the wave, and after taking a trip or two to Iowa, where he was well received, Rubio proceeded to capitalize on his growing popularity and renown by taking the lead as one of the Gang of 8 senators to finally draft much needed immigration reform. As it turned out, that was the beginning of the end of his presidential aspirations.

Now, the once-darling of the political right has lost his conservative luster and may be facing a tough primary challenge to a second term of office next year.

After enduring a withering, months-long attack on his right flank on the immigration issue from anti-immigration reform advocates such as the smarter, charismatic fellow newbie Cuban Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, and a continuing disintegration of support from tea party loyalists who are now calling for his head, Rubio now has to worry about a challenge from the far right in his upcoming Senate race.

Remember, Rubio won his first primary against an entrenched mainstream Republican and his election in a three-way race against a weak Democrat and a populist independent former governor solely with the support of a then-strong tea party and social conservative wing of the GOP in Florida. Now, as the entrenched, mainstream Republican playing nice in Washington with both moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats, he faces possible defeat if a strong challenge is made from the anti-immigration, anti-D.C. far right in a GOP primary that was the ticket to his success.

And now, after a recent interview, formerly vanquished Florida congressman Allen West is sending signals that he may indeed challenge a vulnerable Rubio in an upcoming senatorial primary in 2016.

And that's bad news not only for Rubio, but for the voters of Florida and even the American people.

As a freshman senator, Marco Rubio showed powerful intelligence and cohones in doing what he was supposed to do: instead of seizing every opportunity for a Sean Hannity sound bite, espousing bitter and nasty rhetoric, and actually not getting anything accomplished for his constituents like West during his tenure in Congress, Rubio showed both maturity and common sense in his approach to his job and more so toward the immigration issue.

While continuing to champion traditional conservative causes and espouse the small government dogma of the tea party during his tenure in office (and much like he did in the Florida house), Rubio has chosen to actually do his job and try to fix the immigration problem. He's done the right thing by reaching out to liberals on the Democratic side and showing a willingness to compromise (yes, that dirty, dirty word for the irrational far right and far left) to fix a major problem in our economy and society.

Recently, in an interview on CNN, Rubio acknowledged how his immigration reform efforts may be hurting his political standing among the hardcore GOP base:

"If I wanted to do something political, the easiest thing to do politically is to just not deal with the issue. You know? Give a couple of speeches, and not get involved in trying to solve it. I'm dealing with this because this is hurting our country badly. I have studied this issue for two years, and I know we have to solve it. If we don't solve this issue, illegal immigrants are still going to be here illegally. People will continue to come in, people will continue to overstay their visas, and our broken legal immigration system will still stay in place. That's why I'm doing it."

The efforts, and hopefully the success, of Rubio and the Gang of 8 to fix the immigration problem is a hopeful sign that the dysfunction and anarchy that has characterized both Washington and politics as a whole may be coming to an end.

But given the Florida GOP and the stranglehold that the social conservatives and tea party have on Republican politics in the Sunshine State, it's doubtful that the once Hispanic political messiah from Miami will get a free ride to a second term in the Senate.

And if Rubio survives a challenge from West or another candidate, he should choose to continue to serve to two or three terms in the Senate before thinking about a run for the White House.

Rubio's already proven that he is adept to learning the ropes in Washington, and if the legacy of the present president is an indication, he has much more to learn before acting on his own presidential aspirations.

Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communications strategist from Monticello, New York. He blogs at Kurly's Kommentary, the Huffington Post, and The Florida Squeeze. He can be emailed at kurly@stevenkurlander.com