Sen. Marco Rubio’s popularity has plummeted among tea party activists who say the Florida Republican, who helped ignite their movement with his 2010 Senate bid, has failed to live up to the hype — and made a major wrong turn by joining Sen. John McCain’s push to legalize illegal immigrants.
Tea partyers say their beef is not that Mr. Rubio is trying to fix the nation’s immigration system, but that the bill he helped write doesn’t repair the nation’s porous borders, even as it offers special pork to some lawmakers and expands the size of the federal government.
The criticism is a major change for a man who was intricately entwined with the tea party. The nascent movement backed Mr. Rubio early on as he chased establishment candidate Charlie Crist from the Republican primary en route to his 2010 general election victory.
“I have heard repeatedly from people in Florida that they are ready to look for primary challengers, and I have heard from people around this entire country that they don’t want him to be the presidential nominee in 2016,” said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots.
It’s just one example of how the immigration debate already is playing into the 2016 presidential sweepstakes.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky flirted with supporting a broad immigration bill but ultimately backed off, saying he wasn’t convinced the borders would be secure. He voted against the final bill.
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