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Rubio, Ryan and the Excommunication Impulse

National Review’s Katrina Trinko wrote a piece on a Tea Party gathering in Washington that turned into an anti-Rubio rally. According to Ms. Trinko:

Rubio, who has been attempting to sell the Gang of Eight bill to conservatives for months, came under fire during the rally. Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector, the co-author of a report estimating the net costs of illegal immigration and amnesty to the taxpayer, took aim at the Florida senator. “No matter what Marco Rubio says, who has not read his own bill, incidentally . . . ” was how Rector began a criticism of the immigration legislation. At one point, when Rector mentioned Rubio, the assembled tea partiers booed loudly, with at least one person shouting, “Traitor!” One sign read, “Rubio Lies, America dies.” Another read, “6.3 Trillion $, Cost of Marcos Amnesty Bill. (Net.)”

I have a few thoughts on this, beginning with pointing out that Senator Rubio has handled himself superbly during this whole debate. At the outset of the debate many on the right who were highly skeptical of immigration reform treated him respectfully because of Rubio’s conservative credentials. But the mood has shifted in a much more negative direction in the last month or so. Increasingly this has the feel of 2007 all over again, at least in some quarters. Which means it’s getting ugly and, especially if immigration legislation passes in the Senate, will get uglier. 

Yet Senator Rubio–along with Representative Paul Ryan, who has become a visible advocate for immigration reform–has not returned the vitriol. Both men have spoken in calm, measured and gracious ways, taking into account the views of their critics while offering informed arguments on behalf of reform. They have refused to attack or thunderously denounce those who hold a position different than theirs. In fact, they have bent over backwards to make it clear they understand conservative skepticism on matters related to immigration reform.

Observation number two: Whether or not conservatives support immigration legislation is not a matter of principle. It’s a prudential judgment on whether the legislation that is debated improves the current situation–not whether the legislation that is written is flawless. This tendency to judge legislation (and individuals) against a mythical ideal is not only misguided; it’s antithetical to conservatism itself. 

A third observation: Even if one disagrees with Rubio and Ryan on immigration, the attempt to portray them as traitors to the conservative cause is ludicrous. By those standards, Ronald Reagan would have been excommunicated from the conservative movement even before he ran as president on grounds that as governor he had (a) supported the largest tax hike of any governor in history at that point and (b) signed into law “a liberalization of abortion that led to an explosion of abortions in the nation’s largest state.”

Those who are drawn in the direction of purity or excommunication, who seem intent on elevating every difference into an apocalyptic battle over principle, are doing the work of liberals, which is to diminish the appeal of conservatism.

Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan may be right or they may be wrong on immigration reform. But they are among the most impressive and appealing conservatives in the land. If their stance on immigration reform leads some on the right to turn on them with a vengeance, it will be far more of an indictment of their critics than it will be an indictment of Rubio and Ryan. 


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