(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

From the outset of the 2016 campaign, Marco Rubio has tried to adopt a clever straddle on immigration. He has edged towards the hard line stances of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, while carefully keeping the door ajar to re-entering in the general election as the GOP’s Great Hispanic Hope, the candidate whose background and relative moderation on the issue would allow him to solve the GOP’s demographic woes.

Rubio may have just slammed that door shut — or, at least, made it a whole lot harder for himself to pull off this long planned reentry.

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Rubio clarified that on Day One of his presidency, he will end President Obama’s executive action protecting the DREAMers — people brought here illegally as children — from deportation.

In the interview, Rubio was asked to respond to Ted Cruz’s ongoing insistence that Rubio has not said clearly that he would end Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on Day One, something Cruz has repeatedly said he would do. To buttress his point, Cruz has cited an interview Rubio gave to Univision in which he said DACA would have to end at some point, while saying he “wouldn’t undo it immediately,” and keeping his timeline vague. Asked for comment, Rubio replied:

“Right after that interview, Univision reported that I said that DACA has to go away, and that it will. I will on my first day in office get rid of it because it’s unconstitutional. I was against it when the president did it. I remain against it now. It cannot be permanent policy. And I’ve said that repeatedly.”

So there you have it. Under President Rubio, hundreds of thousands of people would lose their temporary reprieve from deportation — and the other benefits of DACA, such as work permits — on the first day of his presidency.

It’s important to understand that this has serious substantive significance. It’s true that Rubio has repeatedly said, albeit vaguely, that under his presidency, DACA would end eventually. (See this Politifact article documenting his repeated statements to this effect.) But saying you’ll end DACA on Day One — as Rubio has now done — is very, very different from this. That’s because DACA is granted in stints of several years; it needs to be perpetually renewed over time by the president. The pledge to end it immediately is a flat out promise not to renew it, and to cancel it on a hard date. The president has the authority to do this, since the original grant was done by executive action. And it would mean instant disruption.

Indeed, Rubio himself believes this to be the case. Here’s what he said in February 2015, according to Politifact:

“What I’m not advocating is that we cancel it right now at this moment, because you already have people that have signed up for it. They’re working, they’re going to school. It would be deeply disruptive. But at some point, it has to come to an end.”

Rubio previously thought doing this would be “deeply disruptive,” but he is now advocating for “canceling it right now at this moment,” or at least, on his first day in office.

To be sure, Rubio can legitimately vow to end Obama’s executive deportation relief while simultaneously supporting the general goal of legislative legalization for undocumented immigrants later (which Rubio has hedged on, too, by saying he’ll only back legalization once some undefined state of border security is attained first). But Rubio himself has been reluctant to say he’d end DACA on Day One, very likely because he understands that this would complicate his hopes of moderating on the issue as the nominee. That’s now changed. And apparently, he shifted precisely because he’s been getting attacked hard from the right over it, and needed a way to defuse these attacks. That immediate set of political imperatives has apparently won out over his longer term ones. And Democrats will surely conclude that Rubio has now saddled himself with a major vulnerability in the coming general election battle for Latino voters.

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* HILLARY HOLDS WIDE LEAD IN SOUTH CAROLINA: A new NBC News/WSJ poll finds that Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by 60-32 among likely South Carolina Dem primary voters, barely changed from last month. Also:

In the current poll, Sanders leads Clinton among white Democrats, 51 percent to 46 percent. But Clinton crushes him among African Americans in the state, 68 percent to 21 percent.

If that’s right, Sanders may not yet be making the inroads among nonwhites he needs to make. The polling averages put Clinton up by 25 points in the state.

* TRUMP’S LEAD DRAMATICALLY NARROWS IN SOUTH CAROLINA: The new NBC/WSJ poll also finds that Donald Trump’s lead has narrowed to five points: he has 28 percent of likely GOP primary voters; Ted Cruz has 23 percent; Marco Rubio has 15 percent; and Jeb Bush has 13 percent. This might be an outlier: the polling averages show Trump up 16 points.

One thing to watch: If Rubio comes in fourth, behind Jeb, serious questions will be raised about his viability as the “establishment lane” candidate. But if he comes in second, the “wow, look at the Marco-Mentum” punditry will be ubiquitous.

* RUBIO’S MAKE-OR-BREAK MOMENT? The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters reports that supporters are increasingly looking at Rubio’s performance in South Carolina as a key test of his long term viability:

Supporters, friends and advisers privately acknowledge that anything short of a victory over Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is vying for the support of many of the same voters as Mr. Rubio, could be devastating. The importance of doing well here is more than just a matter of changing the narrative for a campaign that needs something that looks like a win….Increasingly, with expectations for success growing, Mr. Rubio’s ticket out of South Carolina is looking like second place.

Of course, if Rubio does come in third, behind Trump and Cruz, that will somehow be spun into a Rubio win, anyway.

* A MAKE-OR-BREAK MOMENT FOR JEB? The Post overview of the South Carolina contest contains this nugget:

A poor showing in South Carolina, where Bush campaigned this week with his brother, former president George W. Bush, could be a fatal blow for his campaign. The natural place for Jeb Bush’s deep network of donors is Rubio’s corner.

Even if Bush and Rubio are only separated by a few points, look for the Rubio camp to dramatically hype his edge, in order to increase pressure on Bush to exit.

* WILL BERNIE FEVER SUBSIDE? Politico has a good piece explaining the nuts and bolts of how Sanders has defied expectations by making the Nevada battle much closer than expected. Note:

All of it has left some Clinton operatives feeling emotional, knowing they have done everything right to win the contest but wondering what it means if, in the end, they lose anyway. Many concede that, unlike the Barack Obama phenomenon in 2008, they still don’t understand the Sanders appeal. But Clinton allies have steeled themselves for any outcome and remain convinced that, sooner or later, Bernie fever is going to subside and voters will recognize that there’s less there than meets the eye.

Or, alternatively, the Clinton camp could try to learn from the Bernie phenomenon by making a serious effort to reckon with what is really driving it.

 * KRUGMAN BLASTS SANDERS CAMPAIGN’S ‘VOODOO’: Paul Krugman hammers Bernie Sanders’s campaign for promoting an analysis finding his policies would produce 5.3 percent growth, and claims this should be horrifying to progressive wonks. Conclusion:

Good ideas don’t have to be sold with fairy dust….By endorsing outlandish economic claims, the Sanders campaign is basically signaling that it doesn’t believe its program can be sold on the merits, that it has to invoke a growth miracle to minimize the downsides of its vision. It is, in effect, confirming its critics’ worst suspicions.

I would only add that Sanders has also made big promises on immigration that he probably can’t keep, namely that he would use executive action to shield nine million from deportation.