Rubio isn’t formulating his bill to benefit Romney. But for Romney to embrace it would send “a very important signal to Hispanic voters,” Ayres argues. It could also align Romney with groups holding substantial credibility in that community. Publicly, immigrant-rights groups generally argue that Rubio’s concept doesn’t go far enough because it lacks a guaranteed pathway to citizenship for the young people involved. But private conversations already under way suggest that Rubio’s concept could divide Democrats and attract significant support among immigration advocates, at least as a starting point for discussion and perhaps even as the endpoint of an agreement. “If the concept as he has laid it out is translated into decent legislation and he brings Republican support to the table, it’s a game changer,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice.
Rubio’s ability to deliver on the second half of Sharry’s equation—attracting other Republicans—remains uncertain. The senator’s supporters take heart from the dogs that aren’t barking yet on the right. “Given how much coverage this potential bill has received … so far, at least, there have been very, very few conservative voices who have sprung up to criticize it,” one Rubio adviser said. The one exception is Kris Kobach, the hard-line Kansas secretary of state, who Romney earlier welcomed as an adviser but has lately tried to distance himself from.
In Ayres’s polling for the Hispanic Leadership Network, most rank-and-file Republicans supported Rubio’s approach. But Kobach has pointedly reaffirmed his opposition to any program that provides legal status to those who arrived illegally, even though he hasn’t entirely closed the door on Rubio’s approach. That suggests other conservatives may yet recoil at it as well. If that prospect deters Romney from endorsing Rubio’s plan, such a public snub would hobble the senator’s effort to win GOP support and simultaneously deepen Romney’s problems with Hispanic voters. It would also leave Romney violating one of the oldest rules in politics: When you’re in a hole, stop digging.
This article appeared in the Saturday, April 28, 2012 edition of National Journal.
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