Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why Limbaugh is gushing over Marco Rubio

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 11:31 AM EST, Fri February 1, 2013
Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Conservative talk radio hosts are gushing over Marco Rubio
  • Navarrette: As the immigration debate reignites, Rubio's star power is increasing
  • He says the GOP has big plans for the senator, including maybe the presidency
  • Navarrette: Not all conservatives agree with Rubio, but he's affecting immigration debate

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. He has hosted radio shows in Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

(CNN) -- The phrase: "President Marco Rubio" is music to the ears of conservatives who are eager to prove they are not anti-Hispanic while still supporting one of their own: a solid conservative. And so it is that, as the immigration debate reignites, the Florida senator's star power is winning over the world of conservative talk radio.

Whether it's the radio shows hosted by Mark Levin or Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, Rubio's appearances are being met with gushing accolades. The talkers are not sold on everything he says about how to fix the immigration system, but they're praising him nonetheless. Levin called Rubio a "very, very impressive man." Limbaugh swooned: "Well, what you are doing is admirable and noteworthy. You are recognizing reality. You're trumpeting it, you're shouting it."

How cozy. The reality that Rubio is recognizing is twofold. One, the nation's immigration system is broken and fixing it requires figuring out what to do with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. And two, the Republican Party, if it hopes to live to fight another day in a country that is increasingly ethnically diverse, can't just be known as the party that is against illegal immigration but has to build a reputation for supporting legal immigration as well.

Rubio: Obama sees immigration as a 'political' matter

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Rubio thinks that the way you fix both problems is comprehensive immigration reform -- securing the border, making it easier for high-skilled immigrants to get green cards, starting a guest worker program for industries like agriculture with jobs Americans aren't doing, and creating a conditional pathway to earned citizenship for the undocumented.

Many Republicans have a word for that: "amnesty." And, almost uniformly, conservative talk radio does not like amnesty.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Yet, you wouldn't know it by the warm reception that Rubio got when he got on the airwaves. Right-wing talkers are smitten with the Hispanic Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate. And it is spilling into the immigration debate.

So much so that Limbaugh felt compelled in his show on both Wednesday and Thursday to insist that, no, he had not fallen madly for Rubio, who had been a guest on his show the day before. Limbaugh explained to his millions of listeners that he liked and admired Rubio and considered him a strong conservative and a star of the Republican Party. And Limbaugh suggested that this fondness for the senator might have left some thinking that he was endorsing the immigration reform plan put forth on Monday by Rubio and seven other senators from both parties.

Sen. Nelson: 'Give Rubio a break'
Sweeping immigration changes proposed

Limbaugh is not there and he may never get there. He still rejects as "amnesty" the idea of giving illegal immigrants an earned pathway to citizenship and rejects it as unacceptable. Besides, he insists, if the border isn't secure, Rubio is likely to drop his support for the plan as well.

What Limbaugh thinks about immigration -- a subject he doesn't really know very well -- isn't important. What is important is the massive footprint that Rubio is already leaving on the immigration debate, the value that he adds to the Senate's reform-minded "Group of Eight," and the near-hypnotic effect he's having on some conservatives who -- while they don't like what he's proposing to fix the nation's immigration system -- do like him a great deal.

Rubio, pitching immigration plan to conservatives, identifies sticking points

Alas, the love fest is not complete. Not all conservatives are willing to give Rubio the benefit of the doubt. Some conservative bloggers -- including Michelle Malkin and the folks at Redstate.com -- are vehemently opposed to what he is proposing, and they've gone after him aggressively. Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana has characterized the Rubio approach to immigration reform as "amazingly naive."

But that hostility hasn't followed Rubio onto talk radio. So what's going on here? Why isn't Rubio getting more static from the radio talkers? I can think of three reasons.

First, the Republican Party has big plans for Rubio, which may include the presidency, and the talkers know enough to get out of the way of a speeding train. Besides, when they interview him, even if they could slice him up rhetorically into itty-bitty pieces -- and I'm not sure they could -- why would they want to?

Second, Rubio is a thoughtful communicator who understands radio and excels in that medium. I'm a former radio talk show host who has worked in a half dozen markets, and I know that doing that kind of work teaches you that there is such a thing as talking for radio. If you understand pacing, and when to pause or accelerate, you'll hit a homerun. Rubio does.

And third, whether many Republicans realize it or not, there is a strong conservative case to be made for fixing our immigration system by encouraging the free flow of labor and saving illegal immigrants from heavy-handed enforcement tactics. The Obama administration divides thousands of families and deported a record number of people, more than 400,000, in 2012. If you're a conservative who supports the free market, family values and limited government -- and who doesn't like the spectacle of immigration agents busting down doors and hauling away grandmothers in handcuffs and dropping kids in foster care -- comprehensive immigration reform could be for you.

And so could Marco Rubio. After all, he has already charmed a crowd that is notoriously hard to please.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT