Right-wing media aims at Rubio
© Getty Images

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe imminent crises facing Joe Biden Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signs daylight savings bill Study: Early unemployment cutoff would cost 16M people 0B MORE (R-Fla.) has a conservative media problem.

Rubio’s past support for immigration reform infuriated some of the big-name conservative media personalities who backed his upstart Tea Party bid in 2010, and they’re taking retribution now that he’s rising in the presidential polls.

Immigration hawks such as Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter appear unlikely to ever give Rubio a second chance.


Others, such as Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityMcCarthy dings Biden after meeting: Doesn't have 'energy of Donald Trump' Jenner says she didn't vote in 2020: 'I just couldn't get excited about it' White House says Biden won't 'underestimate Trump' if he runs in 2024 MORE, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Glenn Beck, appear enthused by Rubio’s political skills and ready to reconsider him. 

It makes for a complicated media landscape for Rubio in the highly influential land of conservative talk radio and TV as he seeks to capitalize on momentum from his strong debate performances and subsequent rise in the polls.

“So many of these guys were on his side until he made that one big error in their eyes,” said Rich Noyes, a research director at the conservative Media Research Center. “Republican primary voters are conservative talk radio listeners, and what they hear has a reinforcing affect. It helps immensely to have them on your side, and immigration is his biggest problem with that.”

There are some influential conservative pundits with whom Rubio’s relationship appears beyond repair.

Ingraham, Malkin and Coulter consistently hammer Rubio for his past support for immigration reform and warn their audiences regularly that if elected president, he’ll fold on the issue.

They got more ammunition on that front when billionaire Republican Paul Singer, who supports immigration reform, announced last week he’d throw his financial support behind Rubio in the primary.

“What worries me really about Marco Rubio is Paul Singer, his big benefactor, who is [for] open borders, [is] terrible on social issues and, as far as I can tell, is more concerned about the globalism agenda than the issues that are the best for the American people,” Ingraham said on her Wednesday show. “That’s my concern.”

A day earlier, Ingraham played a sound bite from a Rubio interview on Univision in which he said one of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration could not be immediately repealed. 

She teed up New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of Rubio’s rivals for the GOP nomination, by asking if that position should disqualify Rubio from the nomination.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to have someone who is not going to enforce the law as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States,” Christie responded.

Malkin has accused Rubio of being in the pocket of “his amnesty-peddling campaign donors,” while Coulter consistently rails against Rubio as a liar and traitor on the issue.

“Marco Rubio devoted his entire Senate career to pushing amnesty,” Coulter declared in a column on Townhall.com late last month.

Meanwhile, the conservative news website Breitbart has been hammering Rubio on a host of issues related to Singer.

“Pro-amnesty pundits pine for Ryan, Rubio moment,” said one recent headline, referring to new Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has also been hit on this issue.

“Marco Rubio’s Wall Street sponsor Paul Singer dumped hundreds of thousands into Common Core,” said another.

Rubio’s transformation from a Tea Party conservative to a candidate with establishment appeal could be hurting him in the conservative media sphere, which caters to those with strong anti-establishment streaks.

For instance, two influential conservative media figures — Iowa radio host Steve Deace and Media Research Center President Brent Bozell — have already thrown their support behind White House hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Meanwhile, Rubio has begun to scoop up endorsements from his Senate colleagues, landing big-money donors and earning rave reviews from Beltway conservative pundits, which could contribute to the skepticism.

“Some of these guys are just trying to crush him because he’s the biggest threat to the outsider threats they love,” said one Republican.

Still, it’s not all bad news for Rubio.

“A lot of these folks are predisposed to liking him,” said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “A lot of conservative thought leaders really want to like him, but they still feel burned. He needs to make clear in unambiguous statements where he stands on immigration if he’s going to convince some of these opinion leaders to forgive him.”

Rubio has made considerable inroads among some of the biggest names in talk radio and TV, including Beck, Limbaugh, Levin and Hannity.

In 2013, at the height of the Gang of Eight immigration reform push, Beck tore into Rubio, calling him “a piece of garbage.” 

But Rubio has continued to appear on Beck’s show, and Beck earlier this year acknowledged that “he may have been a little too harsh.” By September, Beck was so impressed by Rubio he declared a ticket of Rubio and businesswoman Carly Fiorina would be “gangbusters.”

Rubio has similarly improved relations with Hannity after admitting to him onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year that he’d learned his lesson and would not seek comprehensive immigration reform without first focusing on securing the border. 

“I’m over the issue with Rubio and immigration,” Hannity said on his radio show in September.

“It was part of a learning curve as a new senator, and I’m over it,” he said. “I think he’s very likely at some point in the future to be president of the United States. I really believe that. He’s got all of the great qualities that could be a great president.”

Levin has called Rubio “very engaging,” and Limbaugh has called him “instantly likeable,” “motivational” and “inspirational in a Reagan-esque way.”

Still, as Noyes pointed out, “They don’t forget.”

Late last month, Limbaugh was back to tying Rubio to “the donor-class agenda” of “amnesty.”

“The House leadership thinks it’s gonna be Jeb [Bush] or Rubio,” he said. “The dream:  Jeb or Rubio in the White House; Ryan Speaker of the House. Then in the first 12 months of the Rubio or Jeb administration, first 12 to 18 months, the donor-class agenda is implemented, including amnesty and whatever else they want.  That is the objective here. That’s what I think all this adds up to.”

Rubio’s campaign declined to comment.