Pitiful beyond belief, but in keeping with where the GOP is as a party. The great amnesty debate has now been reduced to the idea that it’s only amnesty if Trump says it is.

If you’re not following the immigration saga in the House — which you shouldn’t be, because it’s pointless political theater and not worth anyone’s time — the GOP has been bickering over two bills. One, the conservative bill sponsored by Bob Goodlatte, went down in flames today with 41 moderate Republicans voting no. That was strategic twice over. The no vote can be touted back in their purplish home districts as proof that they’re not hardliners on immigration. But the bill’s defeat also puts pressure on House conservatives to vote yes on the somewhat more centrist “compromise” bill patched together by Ryan and his team. The compromise bill has a lot in it that Trump and border hawks like. It’s got wall funding, it puts the kibosh on the diversity visa lottery, it reduces chain migration.

But it also has a path to citizenship for DREAMers. That’s why moderate Republicans are willing to support it. They’ll take all of the enforcement measures in the bill so long as they get a DREAM amnesty with it that they can show off to voters back home. And Trump has already signaled that he’s open to a DREAM amnesty, remember. He offered one to Democrats months ago in return for the same sort of enforcement measures that are included in Ryan’s bill. The White House even said last week that he’d sign the bill if it ends up on his desk. Should be clear sailing for House conservatives to support it, right?

Not so fast. The political weather changes quickly in the Trump era.

House GOP leadership had been trying to get Trump to endorse the compromise bill. He even came to the Hill and promised them he was with them “1000 percent.” Yet Trump failed to say he would only sign that legislation; Trump said he would support that measure or the more conservative Goodlatte bill. Trump’s failure to weigh in heavily for the compromise proposal emboldened conservatives to take a harder line on the compromise bill, virtually ensuring that nothing is likely to pass the House…

Trump fired off a flurry of immigration tweets Thursday morning but, notably, none were a direct push for House Republicans to back the compromise bill. Instead, the president attacked the U.S. asylum system and accused Democrats of preventing action on immigration…

Conservatives are disappointed by Trump’s inability to sell the compromise bill and are therefore wary of voting “yes.”

You don’t have to read deeply between the lines here to see what’s happening. The political liquidation of Mark Sanford was a reminder to every Republican in the House that getting on the wrong side of Trump can be fatal to their careers. Granted, Sanford was a special case in that he criticized Trump personally; POTUS rarely goes after a Republican who disagrees with him politely on policy. But most conservatives in the House come from blood-red districts whose Republican majorities might consider it a mortal sin for their representative to support a bill the president dislikes, particularly on immigration. So there’s a baseline degree of uncertainty for House members (“What if Trump changes his mind on amnesty for DREAMers tomorrow?”) plus an additional degree of uncertainty in the fact that POTUS sometimes doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Last week he told reporters that he wouldn’t sign the compromise bill; White House spokesmen had to clarify later that he’d been confused about what was in it, believing that it was a “clean” DREAM amnesty championed by Republican moderates, and would indeed sign it.

So if you’re a House conservative, you have three potential outcomes here if you vote yes on the compromise bill. One: POTUS applauds. Great! Your voters will be pleased. Two: POTUS decides any bill with amnesty for DREAMers is now a sellout. Suddenly your voters are mad at you and calling you a RINO. Three: POTUS tweets something disapproving about the bill because he’s confused again about what’s in it, triggering a sh*tstorm in which Trump has to straighten things out, House conservatives have to explain that Trump actually agrees with them, yadda yadda. Why don’t conservatives just vote no on the bill, declaring themselves to be against all forms of amnesty no matter how many enforcement measures are packaged with it, and assume that Republican voters back home will accept that even if Trump supports the bill? When in doubt, you can’t go wrong in a red district out-border-hawking Trump.

Besides, having the bill fail because conservatives voted no should be fine with House moderates. All they want is an opportunity to register their own vote in favor of amnesty ahead of the midterms. They know the bill will never make it to Trump’s desk since McConnell won’t find nine Democrats in the Senate to help him defeat a filibuster and pass it. That’s why I say that this nonsense really isn’t worth your time. It’s kabuki, doomed to fail, orchestrated by centrists just so that they can virtue-signal to constituents ahead of tough races back home. The only reason it’s newsworthy is that House conservatives pleading with Trump to declareth the bill Amnesty or Not Amnesty is further evidence of how cowed even the “principled” members of the GOP caucus are by him. These are the people who got elected running as fearless defiers of the establishment, unafraid to do battle with the powers that be. Now they’re wetting their pants about voting for a bill that would deliver 90 percent of what Trump wants on immigration because it doesn’t also include E-Verify and they just don’t know if Trump will surprise them by throwing a public fit about that. All this over something that has zero chance of passing anyway. Pathetic.