The political fallout on the right over Marco Rubio's support for the Gang of Eight's immigration proposal will largely hinge on this.
Do hawks think Rubio is being conned by Democrats OR that he's trying to con Republicans?
Do hawks think his immigration push is naive or nefarious?
Is he duped or the duper?
For the most part, conservative thought leaders who've opposed Rubio's plan have given his motivations the benefit of the doubt, but he could be in for a double round of pain if that starts to change.
In April, Jonah Goldberg suggested that Rubio had been simply outmaneuvered and bamboozled by a duplicitous Democrat, Chuck Schumer.
Schumer managed to hold Rubio and win his grudging respect, while selling him a lopsided deal.... Schumer’s genius is to have placated Rubio not just with promises, but with new versions of old promises.
On his show in late April, Rush Limbaugh called Rubio "naive" on both immigration and the political process surrounding its reform (emphasis added)
"I think Senator Rubio is a little naive on the immigration stuff.... Marco Rubio has said repeatedly -- and he's a good person -- he only wants what he thinks is the best for our country.
I don't question secret motives, intentions of any deceptive kind where he's concerned."
In April, Breitbart's Javier Manjarres showed Rubio some love despite a critical take on some aspects of his proposal, writing "I praise my friend Marco for putting forth this effort to reform a badly broken immigration system."
Radio host Mark Levin, who vehemently opposes the plan, also gave Rubio the benefit of the doubt in April (emphasis added).
"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.
He is earnest and thoughtful and deserves much better. He loves his country and means well."
Thus, you had both Limbaugh and Levin -- arguably, the two most important grassroots voices on the radio -- opposing Rubio's legislation, but NOT Rubio himself.
Meanwhile, one of the most influential talk radio hosts in Iowa, Steve Deace, likewise excoriated Rubio for his immigration plan, even while acknowledging his incredible potential (emphasis added).
We could certainly use someone as attractive and charismatic as Marco Rubio -and who also happens to not be just another older white male. That’s why what amounts to a political intervention is needed before we witness one of the greatest wastes of political potential in recent American history.
The question, though, is whether that favorable interpretation is starting to shift.
Earlier this month, The National Review famously called the Gang's plan "Rubio's folly" and plastered him on its cover page.
The piece, written by Mark Krikorian, doesn't necessarily indict Rubio's motives, but it does finish with a shot that comes oh-so-close to the "Rubio is duping us" argument.
[Rubio] is now much less the conservative ambassador to the Gang of Eight than the Gang’s ambassador to conservatives.
Meanwhile, Powerline's Paul Mirengoff also inched toward and then completely crossed the "Rubio is duping us" line in a blog post titled, "Did Rubio lie to Mark Levin?
Pajama Media's J. Christian Adams called the plan, "Rubio's immigration snake oil,"
And Ann Coulter assigned the most malevolent motives possible to Rubio in a piece in late April -- calling him guilty of peddling the "Mt. Vesuvius of Lies."
When Republicans start lying like Democrats, you can guess they are pushing an idea that's bad for America. During his William Ginsburg-like tour of the Sunday talk shows last weekend, Sen. Marco Rubio was the Mount Vesuvius of lies about his immigration bill.
So where is the conversation headed?
It's not immediately clear, and the worst of the storm is likely in front of us.
What is clear is that Rubio is paying close attention to how this is shaking out.
The Washington Post's Dan Balz reported this weekend that his advisers "closely monitor" talk show sentiment on immigration.
Over the past few weeks, Limbaugh was giving the issue an average of about 12 minutes a day, Hannity 6 minutes, Levin 14 minutes and Ingraham 35 minutes, according to analysis provided by a Rubio adviser.
12 minutes/day on Limbaugh is enough to give Rubio serious pause, but it's not enough to prompt serious panic.
Already, Rubio's taking a beating on grassroots boards like Free Republic, but that's child's play compared to the widescale blood he'll shed if Limbaugh and Levin start assigning malicious motives towards Rubio himself.