Senator Paul, care to comment?

A senior adviser to Paul told BuzzFeed Wednesday morning that the Kentucky senator rejects early analysis arguing that the GOP base has adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward immigration reform.

“Elections are almost never a referendum on one issue; they are a referendum on the people on the ballot,” the adviser said…

“[Rand]’s going to say what he’s always said; that yes, he believes we need immigration reform. Anybody who looks at the system has to admit it’s broken,” the adviser said. “But he has always said that reform needs to start first at the border, and that any reforms that follow that are staggered over a number of years, contingent on border security, and sent back to Congress every year so they can say, yes, these reforms are working.”

I think that’ll be par for the course for the field. As traumatized as Republican candidates must be by Cantor’s destruction, they’re more traumatized, I think, by Romney’s margin among Latinos in 2012 after he backed “self-deportation” in the primaries to pander to righties. They’re not going to follow him down the same road, and if they were tempted to, the donor class wouldn’t let them. Unless you’re Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, neither of whom stands a chance of winning the business-lobby primary, your campaign hinges on winning as many rich backers as possible. That means you support legalizing illegals, even if you have to lard up that positions with conditions to stay viable in the primaries. Even Paul, after all, is leery of trying to win a confrontation with the establishment in a national race backed by nothing more than grassroots support. That’s why he’s been moderating his position on foreign policy and why he’s refusing to budge on immigration after Cantor’s beating. He won’t be the donor class’s choice, but maybe he can peel away some members. It’s Cruz, alone among the contenders, who’ll be running a chiefly grassroots campaign. That’ll ensure his status as de facto leader of the tea party, win or lose, but it’s not the obvious path to the nomination in the McCain/Romney era. Because he has little to lose, he’s the only man running who might embrace a firm “security first” position. And needless to say, even he’ll stay away from “self-deportation.”

As for the rest of them, with the exception of Jeb “Act of Love” Bush, I think the adjustment made will be mainly rhetorical. After Cantor, you’ll hear more chatter about how border security must, must be part of any deal with Democrats, but that a deal, regrettably, must nonetheless be made. That’s been Rubio’s position all along as a member of the Gang of Eight; people like Christie and Scott Walker, who are looking for cover on this, will parrot the same points in order to try to hide in a crowd. The more similar each candidate is to the other on immigration reform, the more in theory the issue is neutralized when voters are making up their minds. The one exception to that on the right, again, is Cruz. The establishment candidates will be calculating that immigration isn’t important enough to Republican voters to put him over the top; they’ll attack him relentlessly as being unelectable, which should make undecideds who happen to agree with him on amnesty think twice about backing him. If that calculation is wrong, though, all bets are off in the primaries. That’s how much of a wild card immigration is.

On the other end of the spectrum, I think Jeb’s too much of a true believer in legalization to modify his rhetoric much even after seeing what Brat did to Cantor. He may figure — probably correctly — that being the lone loud-and-proud amnesty fan in the field might consolidate establishment support behind him and eliminate his more dangerous opponents, like Walker. If he ends up in a one-on-one fight with Paul or Cruz, he can live with that. He’ll campaign 24/7 on electability and probably win, just as McCain and Romney did. The danger to Jeb, who’s not winning any tea-party votes in the primary regardless, is that if he goes whole hog on amnesty early, he might alienate a critical mass of conservatives into staying home for the November general election. I think that’s unlikely, but immigration’s a powerful issue and grassroots righties are bone-weary of nominating people whom they feel don’t represent their interests. That’s the other big wild card in the primaries: Would a candidate like Jeb, by dint of embracing the establishment position on amnesty, be seen by conservatives as so remote from them, politically and culturally, that some small but significant number boycott the race? Before last night, I would have said no way. But after watching the House majority leader spend boatloads of money, attack his challenger vigorously, enjoy high turnout in his home district, and get obliterated anyway, I don’t know anymore. Dave Brat’s populist, anti-“insider” strategy, epitomized by his criticism of immigration compromises, might have legs.