The Republican Party has been desperate for a solution to solve their problem with Hispanic voters after seeing their presidential nominee Mitt Romney lose by nearly 50 points to Obama with this group in November. The party fears a long-term demographic realignment that could doom them to permanent minority status unless they do something that was almost unspeakable just last year: help pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Because of this, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) has become the most important figure in this effort. The 41 year old son of Cuban immigrants has fast emerged as the arguably the GOP's brightest star just two short years removed from being elected due to his natural charisma, political skill (he was the former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives) and ethnic background. More importantly, Rubio enjoys strong support from the party's conservative wing, having been backed by the Tea Party during his Senate campaign.
Rubio is also part of the Senate Gang of 8 who on Monday released a set of principles on immigration reform that included border security measures but also a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Republican leaders are hoping he can sell skeptical conservatives particularly in the House on such a package since it will be virtually impossible to pass a bill through the Senate that does not contain a pathway to citizenship.
He will have his work cut out for him. After the Senate Gang of 8 revealed their set of principles, Rubio started a conservative media campaign to convince the likes of Rush Limbaugh Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin to at least keep an open mind on the proposal until the bill is written and emphasized the border security requirements in the outline and the fact they must be in place before illegal immigrants can become citizens. He has insisted that he will not support any legislation that does not have these requirements So far, they have refrained from criticizing him.
Still, he has been ripped in other quarters for selling out. On Wednesday, Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) said Rubio was being "amazingly naive" on immigration reform and influential conservative author Ann Coulter decried the outline as "wolf in wolf's clothing." While these voices are a minority right now, they will grow if the enforcement provisions contain loopholes by the time the bill is written and he does not withdraw his support.
The Senate hopes to have legislation written by March and passed by either late Spring or Summer. The sales job will only get tougher for Rubio as the weeks go by.