In his response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, Sen. Marco Rubio talked about limited government, lower taxes, reduced spending, private sector growth – all things that resonate with conservative voters, including moderate Democrats.  But ticking off a list of focus-group tested talking points does not a conservative make.  Both John McCain and Mitt Romney learned that turning out conservative voters takes more than a few passing references to the Ole Gipper.  Many conservative voters did not trust McCain and Romney’s bonafides because both men had political track records that were not, to borrow Mr. Romney’s term, “severely conservative.”

Sen. Rubio has the rhetoric down pat, but he, too, has a political past that will get a lot more scrutiny as he positions himself for a run at the Presidency in 2016.  And that record makes Senator Rubio look very much like an establishment Republican.  Rubio’s political pedigree will likely help him attract the support of Super PACs, but it also may make it difficult for him to attract the conservative base voters he needs to win the Republican Primary, and ultimately the White House.

Now, political conversions do occur, and Sen. Rubio is working hard to convince the American people that he sees the light on government overreach and overspending.  What makes it hard to take him at his word is his stance on immigration “reform,” i.e. his support for amnesty and major increases in legal immigration and increased numbers of guest workers.  Granting amnesty and access to entitlement programs to millions of low-income individuals, displacing millions of American workers and suppressing the wages of millions more, while providing big business with a steady supply of cheap labor subsidized by American taxpayers does not seem like a recipe for a smaller government that spends (and taxes) less.  And when did the “rule of law” and national sovereignty cease to be hallmarks of conservatism?

In D.C., where even Grover Norquist can pass himself off as a conservative, Sen. Rubio can easily assume that mantle.  When it comes to convincing conservative voters across the country of his dedication to conservative principles, Sen. Rubio is going to have to explain why his opposition to amnesty lasted only long enough to get him elected to the U.S. Senate.

“If you grant amnesty, the message that you’re sending is that if you come in this country and stay here long enough, we will let you stay. And no one will ever come through the legal process if you do that.“ Marco Rubio, November 17, 2009

“As far as amnesty, that’s where [Charlie Crist] and I disagree. He would have voted for the McCain plan. I think that plan is wrong…if you grant amnesty…you will destroy any chance we will ever have of having a legal immigration system that works here in America.” – Marco Rubio, March 28, 2010

“Earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty. It’s what they call it.” – Marco Rubio, October 24, 2010