Did Sen. Marco Rubio irretrievably damage his presidential prospects by supporting an immigration bill opposed by many Republican primary voters? The Tea Party disliked the bill, but Rubio still received a hero's welcome at CPAC.
“In every battle, heroes emerge,” Matt Schlapp of Cove Strategies said while introducing Rubio. He listed a series of policy issues dear to conservatives that the Florida Republican has worked on, such as opposing Obamacare and supporting religious liberty. Schlapp didn't mention the immigration bill for the moment, and the crowd gave Rubio a standing ovation as he entered.
Rubio gave a fairly somber speech, especially when describing foreign policy threats and unstable autocratic regimes around the world, such as Cuba and Venezuela.
"There is only one nation on earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free people on this planet to stand up to the spread of totalitarianism," he said. "The United Nations cannot do this. In fact, they cannot do anything."
The speech unfolded as if Rubio expects the conservative base to be skeptical of his suggestion that the United States has to work for international stability.
"That doesn't mean that we're going to be involved in 15 wars," he said, before describing the dangers of a nuclear Iran or increasingly dangerous China. "Without American engagement, the world I just painted to you is not just a possibility, it is a real probability. ... We cannot ignore the reality of who we are."
He appealed to the conservatives focused on domestic policies to keep their eyes on the international ball as well.
"The foreign policy issues of our time have deep economic ramifications," he said.
After a compelling discussion of his Cuban immigrant father's success in America, Rubio left to even more applause than greeted him. He paid a political price for the Senate immigration push, but this speech is a reminder that he's got plenty of time to rehabilitate himself before the Iowa caucuses in 2016. It's no guarantee he'll win, but he's got the talent, so he'll have the opportunity.