Marco Rubio was truly impressive back in 2008 when he was running in the Florida Republican primary for the US senatorial nomination. He ran on pure guts against that vile life-form known as Charlie Crist, then-governor of Florida and as slick and slimy a politician as ever graced the planet. Crist had the power, the network and the big money; Rubio just had his ideas and his principles. He also happened to be an intellectual powerhouse, an able politician, the youngest ever Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and nice-looking to boot. And he was on fire. The GOP was pushing the unenthusiastic candidacy of John McCain against tremendous odds and McCain was making the least of it. Rubio was a welcome contrast.

I remember traveling with a friend of mine to little roadside restaurant by the side of the road in hot interior Florida that summer of 2008. The diner was full of mostly older supporters anxious to see first-hand this feisty candidate who was willing to take on the state’s Republican establishment. Rubio was at least an hour late, as I recall, but for a good reason. His father had been hospitalized and was in bad condition. He was, in fact, close to death. Rubio had been with him in Miami. And when he did turn up, so young and vigorous and fresh-faced, he spoke to the same concerns we all had about government gone wild. He spoke to us for about thirty minutes, touching on all the big issues, and he never used a cue card. He spoke about what he felt and what he wanted for his country and his fellow Americans.  When he shook my hand, he looked me in the eye. He was the real thing. Despite Charlie Crist’s shameless political maneuvering, Rubio won the primary and then went on to whomp Crist in a three-way race that left virtually no ground between Crist and the Democrat.

Rubio took a measured course in Washington, giving a substantive maiden speech in the Senate that confirmed his position as a leading conservative spokesman. And then, little by little, he seems to many to have sold his soul to the demons of opportunism and careerism that possess our elected representatives. Still, looking over his positions – and I don’t agree with his too-militaristic foreign policy stance—there is really only one issue on which most of the conservative base disagrees with him. That is the toad of an immigration bill that was spawned in the Senate.

The chief liability of the Senate bill is that it lacks any credibility. If you only know the key elements — and does anybody know more than that? — you know this is a fig leaf for unlimited immigration, the Open Borders the far left so fervently wants. Just think – endless maids for Hollywood and the One Percent! Unlimited lawn boys! Unending votes for the Democrats to buy! Here is what it looks like the Senate offered us: the immediate legalization of many millions of undocumented aliens who are already living here; minimum and disposable requirements for legalization; somewhere down the line the granting of citizenship; the postponement of key border security elements; and the granting of authority to the administration to override the security requirements. The proposed legislation has lots of detailed provisions that make future waves of illegals almost a certainty, things like ridiculously light penalties for violation of the border. Such provisions are sprinkled throughout the draft law like little illegal alien magnets. Doesn’t sound like such a hot deal for ordinary Americans not looking to expand their array of servants.

Rubio went to Washington a crusader and time and usage has rendered him more of a pragmatist. It has a pejorative flavor to it, that word. I have to accept that compromise is essential to move the nation’s business, but I don’t want supine collaboration, I don’t want spinelessness, or an abandonment of fundamental conservative principles. I want my representatives on the right to bend when the alternative is to break, but to hold firm to the root beliefs of our country and its founders.

Unfortunately for Rubio, a lot of people have weighed up his position on immigration and judged him to be a supine collaborator rather than an upholder of principle. That is too bad, because I don’t think that was ever his intent. We do have a huge problem with immigration and I take as a given his interest in fixing it the right way. The only problem he had was that the Democrat-controlled Senate was never going to approve what he wanted and the left was bound to prevail on most issues. He got good and snookered by old ward-heelers like Charlie Schumer and Dick Durbin. Letting the GOP add the security bit was pure theater. The Dems knew the border control provisions were weak and an open invitation to violation and to major new inflows of immigrants, just their cup of tea. I hope that Rubio sees that for himself, even if he could not get more stringent conditions in the Senate. My considered view is that, since the Senate legislation was never going to pass the House, supporting immigration reform in the Senate was a pretty much cost-free way to update conservatism’s political image. And I think that was Rubio’s conclusion, as well. He took the opportunity to try to shape the legislation (not very successfully) and in so doing to bolster his acceptance among the Hispanic voting bloc. And he did it not just for his own political interests, because the risk of backlash was high, but for the Party, which has been painted old and ugly by our political foes and can’t seem to find its bearings. Now he is taking his licks for taking that chance. Welcome to the school of hard knocks, Marco, and may you learn from it.

Many doubt Rubio’s scheme for winning Hispanic votes has a snowball’s chance of working, but I agree with him that we can win a significant share of the Hispanic vote. However, in order to do so we need a change in the Party approach to recruitment and candidacies, not a poor immigration law. Rubio is working hard to regain conservative approval and his first step, the planned introduction of legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks, is a solid first step. Now if we can convince him to stop fighting other people’s wars, he’d really be on the right path. Conservatives need every talent we can get in what is going to be an increasingly ferocious political fight in our country. I think Rubio is an asset in our campaign to broaden the GOP’s appeal. Let’s not drum him out of the corps.