Rubio really is a one-man conservative outreach program when it comes to this bill. His ties to the tea party base are so deep that reformers were constantly worried he’d abandon negotiations rather than risk an inevitable backlash by signing onto a compromise. Rubio made light of the dynamic at a press conference introducing the legislation on Thursday when he took the podium, said “Actually, I changed my mind,” and pretended to walk off.

It’s created tension at times with more progressive reformers, but Rubio’s general strategy has been to acknowledge conservative complaints about the bill even while he refuses to back off his support. After reform skeptics in the Senate complained the process was moving too fast, for example, he fought to make sure there were multiple hearings on the bill. He’s spent much of the week appearing on conservative talk radio shows, many of which are hosted by skeptics — even leading opponents — of reform. And his office launched a website devoted entirely to knocking down “myths” about immigration reform, including a false claim this week on conservative blogs that the bill would give free “amnesty phones” to undocumented immigrants.

“It’s tragic that a nation of immigrants remains divided on immigration,” Rubio said at the presser.

None of the other “Gang of 8” Republicans have particularly strong followings on the populist right, so Rubio is really the only option when it comes to this kind of outreach. He’ll face another big test this month containing the fallout from the Boston bombing, where he’s already trying to ease Republican concerns about the bill’s national security implications.

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Extrapolating 2012 voting trends to elections several cycles in the future is an inherently speculative exercise. Under a 13-year path to citizenship, this would mean most undocumented immigrants could join the voting rolls in the 2028 presidential election (though the proposed 5-year timeline for citizenship under the DREAM Act and for agricultural workers would start the process even earlier than that). But it is one that highlights the political sword hanging over Republicans as they consider immigration reform with a path to citizenship, an idea that is already deeply unpopular with many red-state constituencies.

To support the measure virtually guarantees millions of new Democratic voters. But for Republicans to oppose immigration reform invites hostility among Hispanic-Americans who already are punishing the GOP and imperiling its electoral prospects…

If Republicans do nothing to repair their relationships with current and future Latino voters, “we certainly won’t be a national political party anymore,” said GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, a top adviser to John McCain in 2008.

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But the legislation’s most critical amnesty comes right away, before even the pretense of beefed-up security. Illegal aliens will get their illegal status removed six months after the bill is passed upon payment of $500. The formerly illegal aliens will be allowed to remain in the country legally, under so-called “probationary status,” for ten years (while those who wish to enter the country legally wait patiently in their home countries for permission to enter). This lawful presence is virtually everything that most would-be illegal aliens hope for, since few cross the border with any desire to become U.S. citizens. After the 1986 amnesty, the naturalization rate of newly legalized Hispanics remained depressed. Only after the passage of California’s Proposition 187, which barred illegal aliens from receiving government benefits, did Hispanic petitions for citizenship increase somewhat…

The political effects of the proposed amnesty won’t benefit the GOP, whatever the party’s hopes might be. Hispanics will not shift their vote to Republicans in the next presidential election unless Republicans promote the same big-government programs, such as Obamacare, that attract Hispanics to the Democratic Party in the first place. So Republican handwringing over how to woo the Hispanic vote will begin all over again, and the next solution will be to convert probationers immediately to legal permanent-resident or citizenship status. Expect to hear the mantra: “Bring the probationers out from the shadows.”

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Cruz hasn’t yet decided whether to become the face of the opposition. But if he does, the Texan could burnish his conservative credentials and establish himself as a right-wing foil to Rubio as well as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — who has expressed support for legalizing undocumented immigrants — in a potential 2016 bid.

But if Cruz were to lead the fight against the comprehensive plan, it could also spark a revolt from the large — and growing — population of Texas Hispanics who opposed his candidacy in large numbers in 2012. Cruz’s thinking will be on fresh display Monday, when witnesses testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee could be subjected to his prosecutorial style of questioning…

“I briefed him on it and his staff, but I don’t think he’s prepared to support it — he’s got a lot of questions, and they’re legitimate questions,” Rubio said…

Last year, Cruz was losing the Hispanic vote by about 30 percent in a state where there were 4.4 million Latino voters last cycle, amounting to more than 27 percent of the electorate, according to polling conducted on the eve of the election by the firm Latino Decisions. Immigration was the second most important issue behind the economy for Latino voters in Texas, according to the firm.

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Breitbart News: What do you make of the conservative response to the Senate bill so far?

Rep. Ryan: I don’t think it’s a unified response. I think there have been different views. We’re the party who believes in the rule of law and economic growth. We’re the party that believes in upward mobility and opportunity. And so we’re the party who believes in a functional immigration system, and the principles we’re talking about are important principles, and if they are embodied in immigration reform it will be successful in a long-term, enduring way.

Breitbart News: Do you trust the Democrats to make a commitment to border security?

Rep. Ryan: We’re trying to negotiate. Now is not the time to question the other side’s motives.

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“We could have had a bill that was crafted by [Sen.] Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), or we could have a guy like Marco fighting his tail off in the Senate trying to make sure we didn’t end up with a bill that was a Democratic party wish list,” said Florida based Republican strategist Rick Wilson. “I’m all for calling out the stupid. But [conservative critics] are engaging in some red on red fratricide that is both unnecessary and dangerous and will have a net result that is negative for Republicans and conservatives.”…

In a statement to BuzzFeed, Pollak wrote, “Sen. Rubio enjoys enormous respect among conservatives and was given a great deal of leeway at first. As more details of the bill have emerged, however, it has become clear that he cannot deliver on his promise to achieve security first. In addition, the rushed process is a repeat of Obamacare. Increasingly, Rubio is representing the ‘Gang of 8’ to conservatives, rather than representing conservatives to the ‘Gang of 8.’ Rubio has in many ways made himself the ‘face’ of the bill by making it a signature issue and, among other things, appearing on a record seven talk shows in one day to promote it. In 2010, Rubio was elected over Charlie Crist because conservatives wanted to fight the go-along-to-get-along establishment. Hence growing concern about his support for this fatally flawed, 844-page bill that we are told must be passed within a few weeks.”…

“I have no animus towards Rubio… If he went out in a straightforward way [and said], ‘We need amnesty and we are going to spend all this money on border enforcement’ that would be one thing, but that he has fake border triggers that are trying to con conservatives seems unfortunate. And then if you have to wonder, how much does Rubio know what’s actually in the bill,” Kaus said…

“I’ve been calling it Schumer-Rubio. That’s not an accident. Also, Schumer has not been the one calling Schumer-Rubio opponents, ‘hysterical.’ That has been Rubio’s job,” [Conn Carroll] wrote. “There is clearly a campaign by pro-amnesty forces to brand all conservatives who oppose amnesty as racists. Rubio, unfortunately, appears to be leading that campaign.”

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The strange thing about the Republican members in the Gang of Eight debate is that to ram through immigration legislation, they and their supporters are beginning to adopt the same sort of tactics that we have seen used by the Left during the fights over Obamacare and gun control: obfuscate the issue by imprecise vocabulary and ahistorical allusions; demonize your opponents with all sorts of crazy accusations of quasi-tolerance of “slavery” to abortion; create a false sort of urgency (we are supposed to pass this very minute the huge and mostly unread immigration bill in the manner of the huge and unread Obamacare bill); and speak loftily of principles and humanitarianism when the issue is mostly driven by electoral politics and demography.

Finally, given the language of Conant and others, they are managing to turn off their own reasonable supporters, who are more than willing to consider a “pathway to citizenship” for those who are free of a criminal past, are not on public assistance, and are long-term residents — if only the assurances to enforce those provisions and ensure border security were believable. The present hysteria, invective, and mass rush to legislate suggest that they might not be.

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Schumer ran rings around Gang of Eight Republicans. Those Republicans gave away the store on every important issue. This immigration bill is a disaster. But why? Were our negotiators just stupid? I don’t think so. They were desperate. They believed that it was necessary to put the immigration issue “behind them” if the party was to prosper. Schumer used that desperation to stampede our negotiators into buying a bad bill…

They’re acting out of desperation, and what we’ve gotten from that is a disaster of a bill. Well it’s got to stop. Republicans need to snap out of it, wake up, and kill this bill. Circumstances have changed. Obama lost on the sequester and lost on gun control. The left is tearing itself apart on energy issues and making a fool of itself on terrorism. There’s no need for conservatives to go along with nonsense like this bill. It’s time to stop the surrender. This spirit of capitulation ends here, ends now.

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Regardless, if this is a time for choosing — and one gets the sense that it is — then I’m more concerned about long-term consequences than short-term setbacks. It is much more likely (and problematic) for the GOP to damage its image for a generation, than to lose some House races in 2014.

If the bill fails, it probably also matters how it goes down. Does it fade away (less likely), or does it go down in a blaze of glory? Is it perceived that Republicans are solely to blame (highly probable), or can the blame be spread around (as with the failed gun control bill)?

These are not arguments for passing bad legislation, but I suspect opponents of immigration reform underestimate the potential consequences.

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The Senate will be first to act this year, and the bill needs 60 votes to pass. With Mr. Rubio supporting it, Mr. Graham says it can get 70 votes, including half of the 45 Republicans. He suggests passage by 48 Democrats and 22 Republicans. That’s optimistic but not impossible…

Mr. Bell, a former adviser to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, goes further, arguing that Republicans shouldn’t worry about who gets credit for successful reform. “If Democrats get 10 times more credit, it’s still in Republicans’ interest,” he says. “It will free them” to compete for votes that, more often than not, were beyond their reach.

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