There was a time when Florida's most junior Sen. Marco Rubio, the Eddie Haskell of the Tea Party movement, seemed like such a nice young man. He was ever solicitous of his patrons' delusions, so eager to pander at a moment's notice, and more than happy to participate in a tin-foil hat folding bee.
"Why, that's a lovely hoop-skirt you're wearing today, Mrs. Cleaver."
But that was then, back when young master Marco wanted so very much to win his U.S. Senate seat. In those long-ago halcyon days of hustings bootlicking, the candidate embraced his Tea Party mentors, practically hitting the stump in a coonskin cap and marching in lockstep with a musket.
If the Senate had been Mr. Rubio's only ambition, he could have wiled away a couple terms safely ensconced in his upper chamber's booster seat, showing up back in Florida every six years to bemoan the Marxist/Socialist/Trotskyite plot to provide health care to poor people.
Alas, Mr. Rubio is also a political animal of Falstaffian appetites. And since his 2010 election, he has started to hum "Hail to the Chief" while daydreaming about playing with the nuclear codes aboard Air Force One.
And therein lies a problem. It's one thing to win a Senate seat with the backing of the Villages' Revolutionary War Re-enactor Club. It's quite another to be taken seriously as a potential presidential candidate when you are perceived as getting your foreign policy advice from a Patrick Henry impersonator in a tricorner hat.
Mr. Rubio finally realized he actually had to go work to prove to people he was not simply the Koch Brothers' hot walker.
Since Hispanic citizens have demonstrated they would rather cast a ballot for "The Man of La Mancha" than vote for a Republican, it fell to Mr. Rubio to become the GOP's face in the current immigration reform debate in Washington. No good would come from this for the man who would be the King of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Now Mr. Rubio is being vilified by the stocks of Tea Party activists, accused of betraying the guiding principles of the Yosemite Sams of the Constitution that originally landed him in the Senate.
During a recent Tea Party rally in Washington led by Glenn Beck, right-wing radio's answer to Elmer Gantry meets Huey Long, the mere mention of Mr. Rubio's name invoked outraged boos amid accusations of being a traitor to the cause of returning America to the pelt standard.
Poor Marco Rubio. One moment he's being carted around in a sedan chair on the shoulders of Fox News interns. And before you can say, "Where's Barack Obama's birth certificate?" junior is recast as the Tokyo Rubio of the Beltway.
The senator committed several acts of apostasy, not the least of which was taking part in a bipartisan effort to shepherd an immigration bill through the Senate that would grant legal status to some 11 million undocumented workers currently in the United States and eventually a pathway to citizenship at least 13 years down the road.
But Mr. Rubio was particularly tainted by serving on the Gang of Eight ad hoc committee that also included New York's preening Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who gives the powdered wigs of the Tea Party the vapors inasmuch as they view him as the Tony Soprano of the Communist Party.
It doesn't take much to gall these humorless folks. When Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart - who represents Doral in the Miami area - spoke Spanish recently in a speech about the immigration bill, he was booed by Tea Party types who yelled at him to "learn English."
Could have been worse. Mr. Diaz-Balart could have blurted something out in French.
By turning on him as if he was a subtropical Quisling, the Tea Party folks may have done Mr. Rubio's presidential aspirations a favor. The junior senator now has a golden opportunity to proclaim that he is Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty he is free at last.
After all, if Mr. Rubio isn't willing to stand up to the forces of the Tea Party, how could anyone trust him in the same room with Vladimir Putin for fear the Russians would try to steal Alaska back?opinion_commentary
Daniel Ruth is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times (firstname.lastname@example.org). Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.