WASHINGTON -- The limits of Marco Rubio's persuasive powers and charm, and the depth of conservative reservations about immigration reform, are beginning to show themselves.
Rubio, the Republican Florida senator who is spearheading outreach to the Republican base and to conservative talk radio hosts, was unable to persuade one of the top radio figures on the right to support the Senate's immigration reform effort when he appeared on The Mark Levin Show Wednesday night.
Levin, a former Reagan administration official, was pleasant and polite with Rubio during his 17-minute interview with the senator. But his skepticism was clear, and he referred to undocumented immigrants as "illegal aliens." On Thursday morning, he made his opposition to the Senate effort official. Levin posted a note on his Facebook page that said, "Count me out: the border is NOT secured and Obama cannot be trusted, period."
Levin linked to a site that referred to Rubio as a "slick used car salesman." Levin said later Thursday morning that he wished he had not linked to the site criticizing Rubio.
"While I oppose the immigration bill, given the border-security issue and Obama's record of non-enforcement, among other things, I regret linking to a post that refers to Senator Rubio as a slick used car salesman," Levin wrote. "He is earnest and thoughtful and deserves much better. He loves his country and means well, unlike too many politicians. There are slick used car salesmen on Capitol Hill, many come to mind, but Rubio is certainly not one of them."
But he's not the only one. Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, a former South Carolina senator who is a friend of Rubio's and was instrumental in helping Rubio get elected in 2010, posted an op-ed Thursday explaining why he thinks the Senate bill that Rubio is pushing is "flawed."
DeMint foisted the term "amnesty" -- the one-word wrecking ball that killed the 2007 immigration reform effort -- on the immigration reform legislation introduced by the Senate's "gang of eight" this week.
"After decades of empty promises on immigration enforcement, Congress simply lacks credibility to keep its promises," DeMint said, describing the Senate bill as "immediate amnesty in the form of provisional status within months and lofty promises of 'strategies' and 'plans' for enforcement years later."
DeMint decried the creation of a comprehensive bill, and said Congress should "debate and develop understandable reforms in a transparent step-by-step process that addresses all of the immigration issues." With that language, DeMint appears to have given himself some wiggle room to support a bill in Congress this year, but not a lot.
Many Republicans see passing an immigration reform bill as crucial to the party's electoral future, given the horrid state of their relationship with Latino voters. But conservatives like DeMint and Levin are not persuaded by that argument.
This post has been updated.