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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio dominates Cruz but shows strain of immigration



It was one of Marco Rubio’s strongest moments of the debate -- a lesson in poise, aggressiveness and dexterity.

But it began with a dodge and again displayed Rubio's shifting stance on immigration.

When a debate moderator asked Rubio about his support for allowing in more foreign workers, Rubio took another big step away from the Gang of 8 product he helped make.

“There is a radical jihadist group that is manipulating our immigration system,” Rubio said, referring to ISIS. “When I’m president, if we do not know who you are or why you’re coming, you are not going to get into the United States of America.”

Now, he added, the “entire” immigration system needs review.

Ted Cruz saw an opening: “Radical Islamic terrorism was not invented 24 months ago.” Cruz said he “led the fight” against the “Rubio-Schumer-amnesty bill.”

It was a forceful attack, yet Rubio only got stronger, reprising his legendary takedown of Jeb Bush. Rubio portrayed Cruz as a flip-flopper on immigration issues. He hit Cruz for switching on crop insurance and ethanol. He sneered at Cruz’s one-time praise for Edward Snowden.

“That is not consistent conservatism," Rubio said. "That is political calculation."

Rubio showed he is Cruz’s debate equal, if not superior. Yet beneath the theater, was a notable irony about Rubio’s words.

For years he has twisted and turned on immigration.

- As House speaker, several tough immigration enforcement bills died under his watch.
- As a 2010 Senate candidate he rode the tea party wave and talked of “comprehensive” immigration reform as being “code for amnesty.”
- As a senator he was an integral member of the Gang of 8, stridently defending the bill against conservative critics before beginning to express public doubt. Then he raced for the exits, emerging as an advocate for a border-first piecemeal approach.

Before millions of viewers Thursday night, Rubio opened up a new phase.

Immediately after the debate, critics noted that amid the Boston bombings in 2013, Rubio insisted it should not derail the immigration bill. "Why would you have a tragedy happen in Boston, which was horrible, but we need to learn from it, and why would we not apply those lessons, whether it’s in this bill or some other bill?" Rubio said on Fox News.

[Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2016 11:56am]


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