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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

The strategy and risk behind Marco Rubio's furious campaign against Ted Cruz

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz at the Dec. 15, 2015, GOP debate in Las Vegas


Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz at the Dec. 15, 2015, GOP debate in Las Vegas



If you follow any of Marco Rubio’s campaign team on Twitter, you’ve witnessed since Tuesdays' debate a furious attempt to show that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not as principled as he sounds.

“Immigration flip-flopping puts Ted Cruz on the defensive,” read a tweet this morning from Alex Conant, Rubio’s top campaign spokesman, with a link to a Guardian story.

“A visibly shaken Cruz said on Fox News Wednesday,” wrote Joe Pounder, Rubio’s oppo-research director, quoting from a Time story on the Rubio-Cruz showdown.

Cruz has waffled. In the past he sounded like he supported legalization of some unauthorized immigrants. He now claims it was a “poison pill” to undermine Rubio’s Gang of 8 bill. Cruz looked deflated after a Fox News interview yesterday in which he stammered and tried to explain away his position.

“In this campaign, he is looking for a political advantage so he tries to obscure the lines on it,” Rubio said on Fox News last night.

But Rubio appears to be doing the same, shifting attention from his own immigration views, which he conceded Tuesday — in his one shaky moment of the debate — still includes a path to citizenship.

It’s fitting that the last time Rubio’s team was so aggressive was during the 2013 immigration debate.

A string of news releases titled “Myth vs. Fact” blasted critics of the Gang of 8 bill. One release heralded the legislation as having “the toughest border security and enforcement measures in U.S. history.”

Conservatives targeted in that push-back are still angry with Rubio, who backed away from the bill. On the day it passed the Senate, Rubio skipped the post-vote news conference and since then he has labored to repair his standing with the party’s base, espousing a piecemeal approach and burying any notion of a path to citizenship.

In his 2010 campaign against Charlie Crist, Rubio was the hardliner Cruz now presents himself to be. “Earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty,” Rubio said in an October debate.

Time will show how the Rubio-Cruz fight plays out.

Rubio’s offensive could prove brilliant. Or it could backfire. Already he has awakened his 2013 critics. Rubio could just draw more attention to his own gyrations on immigration.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2015 1:36pm]


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