SAN DIEGO - Marco Rubio is the best thing to happen to the Republican Party in a long time, even if some of his fellow conservatives don't yet realize it.
Many seem to think that Rubio, who is part of the Senate's "Gang of Eight" pushing an immigration reform bill, is being manipulated by Democrats. Others think that the son of Cuban immigrants has gone back to his roots. They thought they were getting a Republican senator who just happens to be Latino, and now they've found themselves with a Latino who just happens to be a Republican senator.
Those on the right need to see Rubio for what he really is -- a compass pointing the way back to traditional conservative values.
Just how indispensable Rubio is to his party becomes clear when you hear him on conservative talk radio defending the immigration reform bill that he helped put together. Rubio challenges fellow conservatives by reminding them of the principles they're supposed to believe in, and insisting they live up to them.
For instance, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show host, has spent more than 20 years extolling the magnetic ability of the Republican Party to win converts and recruit new members. There are few things that Limbaugh enjoys talking about more than how the GOP is the real party of freedom and opportunity, and how its messages and values are vastly superior to those of the Democratic Party preaching dependence. Put the two parties in the arena of ideas, Limbaugh has often said, and conservative principles win every time.
So imagine my surprise when, during a recent appearance by Rubio on Limbaugh's show, the host suddenly appeared unsure of the sermon that he's been giving for most of his career. Limbaugh explained to Rubio that he and many other conservatives are worried that the bill would create millions of new Democratic voters that Republicans would never have a shot at reaching, let alone converting.
Rubio didn't buy it. Maybe he remembered how well a couple of other Republican presidents did in attracting Latino voters. Ronald Reagan got nearly 40 percent of the Latino vote in 1984, and George W. Bush earned 44 percent in 2004. It's hard to imagine either one of those gentlemen being worried about the prospect of adding more Latinos to the rolls, since they knew they could compete successfully for them.
Similarly, Rubio told Limbaugh that he is confident that Republicans have the right message for Latinos -- small government, lower taxes, traditional marriage, etc. Go ahead and legalize the undocumented, Rubio said. Republicans can win them over. Limbaugh was unconvinced.
Have a little faith in the Republican Party, Rush.
The same goes for Sean Hannity, another conservative talk-show host who also had Rubio on his show. Hannity -- who often uses his program to promote patriotism and calls folks that he agrees with "great Americans" -- is worried that those millions of legalized immigrants will get on welfare.
What a silly thing to say. Doesn't he know that most of the people on welfare aren't immigrants but native-born?
Rubio responded by telling Hannity that, under the Senate bill, people would have to wait 10 years for a green card and an average of another three years to apply for the U.S. citizenship that would qualify them to for public assistance. That's 13 years, Rubio said. It's completely unrealistic to think that people are going to tread water, without working, for more than a decade just to wait until they're eligible for a handout. That's not how any other immigrant group has acted, Rubio informed Hannity, and it's not how this one is going to act. They're going to work to better themselves and support their families. And by the time they're eligible for welfare, he said, they won't need it. This is how it works in the land of opportunity.
Have a little faith in America, Sean.
Listen up, folks. What Marco Rubio has to say about his party and his country, some of his fellow conservatives really need to hear -- and take to heart. That is, if they actually believe what they've been saying all these years.