National Harbor, Md. — There’s been a flood of stories about the resurgence of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) within the Republican Party, but you wouldn’t know it by looking around the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference.
It’s not hard to find supporters of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) at the conference. Virtually every other person in a crowd is wearing either a “Stand With Rand” sticker or a “Cruz Crew” sticker.
By contrast it’s near impossible to find someone flaunting their support of Rubio. This, despite a wave of stories foretelling the return of Rubio as the de facto leader of the GOP and will soon be considered a top-tier candidate for 2016 presidential candidate.
“I do feel like his presence is not the same as Rand Paul or Ted Cruz or anything like that,” Eric Daily, a Rand Paul supporter, told TPM.
Among tea partiers at the convention, the autopsy results is his push to pass immigration reform is what killed his party leader dreams.
“Amnesty I think,” Northern Virginia Tea Party organizer Ronald Wilcox told TPM when asked what turned him off to Rubio. Wilcox said he had previously been a Rubio supporter. He hasn’t looked back since Rubio joined a group of eight senators interested in pushing an immigration reform proposal.
“I think the idea that the borders need to be secure before we can take on the thorny issue before we can take on how to deal with illegal immigration is paramount to conservatives,” Wilcox added. “I think that the basic idea of integrity of the borders is really, really part of the liberty of being a citizen of the United States.”
It’s a stark contrast for Rubio, who rose to the Senate on a wave of tea party popularity and for a while was seen as the GOP’s hope both for gaining support among Hispanics and as a presidential candidate. Things seemed to have changed though.
Even among the rare supporters of the tea party at the convention, there’s a sort of glum skepticism.
“Obviously, his immigration stance probably hurt him a lot with the party,” Rachel Chapnick, a University of Miami student and self-described Rubio supporter said. “However, I’m not sure why the party really hasn’t rallied behind him yet.”
“I don’t think the party’s really sure which direction it wants to take it. Once it’s sure you’ll see a lot more support. It’s not necessarily the absence of Rubio support you’re seeing so much as the absence of support for any one particular candidate.”
That said, there’s also not a clear single favorite potential 2016 Republican candidate at CPAC 2014. There are many attendees at the convention flaunting their support of Paul but he wasn’t the only one who got resounding applause during his speech. Both Texas Gov. Rick Perry (TX) and National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre won approving roars from the audience during their respective speeches. And supporters of other potential 2016 candidates say the dynamic could easily change in the near future and someone who seems like a long shot candidate now could become the de facto party leader and far and away 2016 frontrunner.
“I think every person who is considering running for president is going to have supporters at CPAC,” Tony Campbell, a supporter of Rick Santorum, told TPM. “The question is, just like in 2012, what does that mean for an actual campaign?”