Help me square this circle. Exhibit A:

status

Aha. So that’s why even a border hawk like Ted Cruz who’s running to the right in the GOP primary feels comfortable backing work permits for illegals. Most of the party agrees with him that they should be allowed to stay — provided, of course, that certain legal requirements are met. Pro-amnesty forces can now declare victory: Even a majority of the GOP is onboard with legalization, and once legalization happens, citizenship will inexorably follow. Game over.

But wait. Exhibit B:

Republicans (58%) are far more likely than Democrats (23%) or independents (33%) to say that allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. is a reward for wrongdoing. Notably, the share of Republicans who think of a path to legal status as a reward for doing something wrong has increased nine points (from 49%) since May 2013. Over the same period, the percentage of Democrats who express this view has declined six points (from 29% to 23%). Independents’ views are largely unchanged.

Fifty-six percent of GOPers support letting illegals stay … even though 58 percent see it as a reward for wrongdoing. Huh. But maybe that’s not wholly inconsistent. Maybe some Republicans have come around to believing that while granting legal status unfortunately incentivizes bad behavior, there’s no way around it at this point. And besides, whether illegals did wrong in coming here is less important than whether they’ll continue to do wrong by staying here. Maybe GOPers agree with Jeb Bush that immigration, legal or otherwise, is the economic lifeblood of the country. We can all benefit by letting them stay, in which case, let ’em.

But wait. Exhibit C:

impact

So not only would granting legal status reward bad behavior, it’ll hurt the country — and yet, 56 percent of Republicans support doing so anyway. Anyone want to try to explain that? The only theory I can come up with that resolves the tension is that GOPers have concluded legalization simply must be done in the name of protecting the party’s electoral viability, no matter how terrible the consequences are. There’s a certain logic to that: According to the media/political class CW, standing firm against illegals will only maximize Hillary’s share of the Latino vote next year (86 percent of Latinos in today’s poll support legalization), and once Hillary is president a new amnesty is all but assured. The only way for Republicans to limit the damage is to back a modest amnesty in the form of legal status themselves, win the election, and try to hold the line (futilely) against further benefits for illegals. That is to say, the numbers here are a sign of grudging capitulation among Republicans with their eye on 2016.

Want to complicate this a bit further? Exhibit D:

legalimm1

Not only do Republicans think legal status rewards bad behavior, not only do they think immigration is damaging to the country on balance, but twice as many GOPers support reducing legal immigration than support increasing it. (Advantage: Scott Walker.) And yet, somehow, 56 percent want to let illegals who are already here stay. I guess that’s a middle ground between the GOP of 2012, as embodied by its presidential nominee, and the GOP field of 2016, where even the hawks are pro-legalization. We’re going to try to close the gate to make it harder for people to come in, even legally, but we’re also giving up on “self-deportation” fantasies where illegals are pressured to go home because they can’t find work here legally. If you’re here, you’re here for good. If you’re not, tough luck.