What's more, Rubio may be sowing confusion about his political identity as he heads toward a widely expected run for president in 2016. Would he be an establishment contender, along the lines of a Chris Christie, Scott Walker, or Jeb Bush, or an insurgent like Paul or Cruz? "It appears right now as if the path is not clear for Rubio. And sometimes if one foot is in each camp, neither camp adopts you as their own," says University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala, an expert on the state's first-in-the-nation primary.
What set off Wehner was Rubio's assertion to radio host Mark Levin last week that "if you're willing to fund this thing, you can't possibly say you're against it." In other words, he'll vote against a bill to keep the government running unless the measure cuts off money for President Obama's health care law.
"So is that the new Rubio standard?" Wehner asks. "Are we to believe he supported every item funded in every budget bill he voted for while serving in the Florida Legislature? Or that in the future he'll support every program of every budget he votes for in the United States Senate?"
Wehner also takes issue with Rubio's damn-the-politics attitude toward a government shutdown unless the president agrees to defund Obamacare, and questions whether Rubio and the other members of what he calls "the Suicide Caucus" are tethered to reality, given that Obama and the Democratic Senate will never "pull the plug" on that signature achievement.
Being a ringleader on the road to a government shutdown could well be riskier than being a cheerleader for a path to citizenship. There are plenty of GOP presidential prospects who share Rubio's views on immigration, or have similar views, or will by 2015, when the party's dire need for Hispanic outreach and votes in a national race becomes impossible to ignore. Furthermore, whether it succeeds or fails, immigration reform will be in the rearview mirror by then and not all that salient to the national conversation.
"Time would do the best for Marco Rubio, more than anything," says Craig Robinson, a GOP strategist in Iowa, home of the first caucuses of the primary season. And he'll need that time if he's going to bring conservatives back into his fold. "I think it is going to be a while before they're mesmerized by Marco Rubio again," says Robinson, who runs a website called The Iowa Republican.
Rubio ran against Obamacare in his 2010 campaign and has been a consistent opponent of the Affordable Care Act. Also, after voting once for a stopgap budget measure to keep the government running, he has since voted against all such measures, called continuing resolutions. He's now saying he will vote for a second CR, due next month, but only if it defunds Obamacare. "There's a lot of grassroots support for this position. You've seen most of the conservative organizations supporting this, as well as leading conservatives outside of Congress saying that this is the right approach," says Rubio spokesman Alex Conant. He also says of Rubio, "It would be weird if he wasn't fighting to repeal Obamacare."