Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) launched a campaign on Sunday to win over support for an immigration reform bill by appearing on a record-setting seven network news programs. But he may have also launched his campaign for president.
Although Rubio foolishly denied he's even thinking about how the proposal might impact his chances of running for president in 2016, it's becoming increasingly clear that's exactly what he's planning.
Rubio knows that Democrats hold a near-electoral lock on the White House. He knows that Republicans can't win the presidency without reversing their slide among Latino voters. And he also knows that just being Latino isn't enough to convince Latinos to vote for him.
He needs to show leadership and help pass an immigration reform bill desperately wanted by the Latino community. But he needs to do it in such a way that doesn't alienate conservatives who are critical to winning the Republican nomination.
The formula is actually quite simple: Rubio isn't going to be president unless Latinos start voting for Republicans in greater numbers. And Rubio isn't going to be president unless he's supported by the conservative wing of his party. So Rubio needs to convince conservatives that immigration reform is a good thing.
And that's what you saw on the Sunday shows. Rubio pushed back hard against the conservative fear that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers amounts to amnesty.
Said Rubio on Meet the Press: "This is not blanket amnesty. It's not amnesty because you pay serious consequences for having violated the law."
Rubio seems to be calculating that political momentum is on his side and that it will help in his efforts to get conservatives on his side. If he does, he'll go a long way towards creating a viable path for himself and his party to win back the White House.