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 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT