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 2:12 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
updated 5:24 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
updated 7:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
updated 7:50 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
updated 4:31 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT