April 15, 2013
Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is doing something that is both useful and difficult, and he’s doing it very well. That is a rare feat in Washington these days.

Rubio appeared yesterday on seven Sunday shows (on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, Univision, and Telemundo), and his performance on all of them was as good as any Republican leader’s in recent memory.  And oh, by the way, it is worth noting that on two of these shows he was able to make a bilingual presentation, in both English and Spanish.

Rubio possesses the rare quality of knowing a great deal about an issue, caring a great deal about it and then being able to articulate his position in a sincere, informed and compelling way. Wow.

Rubio received only so-so reviews for his response to the State of the Union address. What we learned yesterday is that he may be better impromptu and on live TV than he is rehearsed and behind a podium. Being good on live television is critical for an up-and-coming politician looking for a place on the national stage. This skill also gives him a little anti-Obama aura, as President Obama is most comfortable when scripted, onstage and in front of a teleprompter.

Given Rubio’s ethnic heritage, everyone thought that his role in the immigration issue would mostly be to offer a cosmetic shield for Republicans seeking cover on the issue.  Instead, he’s become the most valuable player for anyone who truly wants to find solutions. Rubio has simultaneously become Obama’s and the Republican Party’s greatest asset on this critical issue.

Without Rubio, Obama and the Democrats wouldn’t have nearly as many Republicans who appear to be willing to be part of an immigration bill that has the president’s support.  And without Rubio, the other Republican leaders on immigration — Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) — would not have the same level of deference among Republican leaders on this issue as they do now.

Graham and McCain also would not have been able to do what Rubio did yesterday. In fact, no one in the Republican Senate could do what Rubio did yesterday on any issue; that is, hold forth in a variety of difficult interviews with challenging questioners and counterparts to artfully and patiently explain the nuanced details of the bipartisan proposal on immigration.

For a potential presidential candidate to involve himself in the debate surrounding the immigration issue, a lot more things could go wrong than could go right. Rubio has already done himself a lot of good, and now he may be able to thread the needle and have a big victory that would do a lot to shape his future.