Yesterday, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was in a typical lather about the Gang of Eight's new immigration pla, saying repeatedly that it amounts to failed policy.
And he used that most-hated of words to many conservatives: "Amnesty." Limbaugh said it over and over again.
"We've done this before. We've done amnesty before," he said. "This immigration bill that everybody's touting on TV today is essentially the Bush immigration bill that was beat back in 2007."
Limbaugh continued to bash the plan today before Republican Sen. Marco Rubio came on the show.
Conservatives, liberals and reporters were atwitter with what would happen when the Florida senator came on. Turns out, not much. No sparks. No tough question. No mention of the A word.
By the end of the interview, Rubio had Limbaugh eating out of his hand. Just as Rubio did with Mark Levin, Lou Dobbs, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and others. All have bashed "amnesty" and President Obama's plans for it. But all of them loved Rubio's plan -- even though it mirrors what Obama called for last year, right down to the rhetoric.
"What you are doing is admirable and noteworthy," Limbaugh said.
Flip meet flop.
This says something about the intellectual honesty (or studiousness) of talk radio/TV. But it also speaks to Rubio's communication skills.
Rubio won Limbaugh by playing along, using Obama as a foil, and agreeing that Democrats are not serious about border enforcement. Rubio has essentially traded Republican support for a pathway to citizenship for Democratic support for more border security.
In the Kabuki of Washington, Obama will resist the more-border-security call (after all, immigration's down, and enforcement's up along with deportations and a 700-mile border fence). Obama will also tack more left by demanding a faster path to citizenship. Rubio and Republicans will move right. Then the two will slowly compromise.
But that's only if something gets done. And that's where Limbaugh comes in. If Limbaugh signs off on something, Republican lawmakers are far less fearful about being challenged in a Republican primary, the base of Limbaugh's show. So they'll be more likely to support the bill. But there are no guarantees.During today's interview, Rubio also played the realist, noting immigration reform was coming and something needed to be done. He didn't repeat his line that the country isn't going to deport 11 million illegal immigrants. And he didn't challenge Limbaugh as he engaged in stereotypes about immigrants, preferring to make immigration reform and immigrants sound less threatening to Limbaugh and his audience.
Limbaugh: "I've seen... scholarly research data which says that the vast majority of arriving immigrants today come here because they believe that government is the source of prosperity... it's not about conservative principles.... Are we, are the Republicans stuck in the past in misjudging why the country is attractive to immigrants today?"
Rubio: "Our argument about limited government is harder to sell than a government program. It always has been. It's easier to sell cotton candy than it is to sell broccoli to somebody. But the broccoli's better for you. And the same thing with limited government. Yeah, it's a lot easier for a politician to sell people on how a big government program is going to make their life better. But I think ours, once we sell it, is more enduring. It's more enduring and more permanent and better for the country. It is a challenge. And by the way, it's not just a challenge for people that are immigrating here. It's a challenge for people that are born here. We have a real fight on our hands to convince the American people that limited government and free enterprise is the right thing for our future. And I think that's a real challenge across the board, given some things that have happened in our society. Look, I don't know. I haven't done a scholarly study on the make-up... I can only tell you about the people I interact with. And I can tell you that the folks I interact with, once they get into this country and they start to work and they open up their own business, they understand the cost of big government. I see it everyday first hand from people that have been here about 8-10 years, all of a sudden they have their own business, they have a bunch of permits they have to comply with, a bunch of complicated laws, their taxes just went up a couple weeks ago even though President Obama's been saying it's only going up on the rich. And The light bulb is going off that, in fact, big government -- the rich means them, even though they're middle class -- and big government means less opportunity for them."