Opinion writer

The news that Ben Carson may have embellished parts of a key formative tale from his youth could translate into good news for Ted Cruz. The Carson revelations suggest at least the possibility that his candidacy could unravel under further scrutiny, and it seems reasonable to speculate that some of Carson’s evangelical support might migrate to the Texas Senator (who is already making a very aggressive pitch for those voters), especially if air starts leaking out of the Donald Trump balloon.

Which sets up the possibility that Cruz and Marco Rubio, the other leading alternative to Trump and Carson, could end up on a collision course. This is a scenario that operatives in both men’s campaigns are already preparing for, according to the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker.

Central to this battle between the two Cuban-Americans could be “amnesty.” As if this election season weren’t already topsy-turvy enough, one of the key story-lines in the battle for the Republican nomination could shape up as a contest between two Hispanic-American Republican candidates over which one is more anti-“amnesty.”

Just look at this new ad attacking Rubio that is now being aired by one of the pro-Cruz Super PACs. It mentions Rubio’s support for “amnesty” three times.

“What’s Rubio ever done? Anything? Other than his Gang of Eight amnesty bill, can anyone think of anything Marco Rubio’s ever done? Anything at all besides amnesty?” the Cruz Super PAC spot says, adding: “When Chuck Schumer and Marco Rubio tried to push amnesty, it was Ted Cruz who stopped them.”

That’s a reference, of course, to Rubio’s role in championing the Senate comprehensive reform bill, a heresy that he continues to atone for to this day, in part by retreating to a position where he no longer supports legalization until some unspecified ideal of border security is attained first. Despite those efforts, conservatives are still suspicious of Rubio’s immigration reform instincts, and are calling on him to flatly rule out “amnesty” at any point in the future. Trump the other day attacked Rubio over his refusal to say that he’d roll back President Obama’s executive action protecting DREAMers from deportation, whereupon Rubio immediately said that executive action would have to be ended at some point, even if comprehensive immigration reform granting DREAMers legalization were not passed.

The point is that we can now be fairly certain that Rubio is going to be attacked systematically by his GOP rivals for being too soft on “amnesty.” As the new Cruz Super PAC ad demonstrates, Cruz, too, will very likely will use this as a cudgel against Rubio if and when their battle grows more contentious. (How Jeb Bush figures into this whole mix is a big unknown, but for now, let’s presume he continues to fade.) Rubio will respond by running further from his previous support for immigration reform, and at some point he may pledge to roll back Obama’s protections for DREAMers immediately as president.

How interesting is it that two Hispanic-American Republicans could be vying for the nomination by trying to outdo each other in terms of who is more genuinely anti-“amnesty,” and, as such, end up conspiring to pull the GOP further to the right on immigration? People who follow Cuban-American politics closely tell me that this must be appreciated in a larger context: that the Cuban-American experience is very different from that of other Latino immigrant groups.

Rubio regularly talks about his experience as the son of Cubans who came here legally. And Ted Cruz talks about his father, Rafael Cruz, and says Rafael’s experience fleeing Cuba to America helped shape his conservatism. Joe Garcia, a longtime Cuban-American Democratic activist in Miami who has been a Congressman, says a key thing to watch is how the different cultural and legal experiences that distinguish Cubans from other Latino groups, particularly Mexicans, shape how Rubio and Cruz treat the immigration issue — and how they are perceived by Latino voters.

“Cubans have no bar to being legalized once they are in America,” Garcia says. “All other Hispanics — with the exception of Puerto Ricans — have to go through a broken, dysfunctional process. One group is American from day one. And all the rest are trying to be.” That Rubio and Cruz are Latino-American but will ultimately end up vying for anti-“amnesty” credibility, Garcia suggests, ultimately reflects “their successful integration” as Cubans.

This story-line will be something to keep an eye on once the Cruz-Rubio war heats up in earnest and their backgrounds and biographies come under intense scrutiny.

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UPDATE: In the first sentence, I changed the word “fabricated” to “embellished,” because further reporting has shown that it’s unfair to claim Carson fabricated his claims about his youth.