“Marco gives the same speech with donors that he does in public,” one Rubio advisor assured BuzzFeed. I’m sure he’s right. After all, when has Marco Rubio ever said different things to different audiences about his stance on immigration?

I do think it’s safe to say that Rubio’s choosing his words carefully on this subject, even among friends in private settings. All it would take to blow him up for good on the right is a hidden smartphone recorder catching him crowing about amnesty, and he knows it. He’s the safest pick in the field precisely because he’s not prone to huge unforced errors.

According to a half-dozen Republican fundraisers and contributors who have been courted by the Rubio camp, the candidate’s aggressive advocacy for the Senate’s 2013 immigration bill has proved to be a substantial draw within the GOP money crowd — and his campaign has shown little hesitation about cashing in. Even as Rubio labors to publicly distance himself from the legislation so loathed by conservative primary voters, he and his aides have privately highlighted this line in his resume when soliciting support from the deep-pocketed donors in the party’s more moderate business wing…

It isn’t only committed Rubio donors who are swooning after hearing the candidate’s immigration spiel. During a press call in February with other pro-immigration figures in GOP fundraising, California-based fast food CEO Andrew Puzder said that regardless of whatever public murkiness might surround the senator’s position, Rubio had personally assured him he was still dedicated to the cause.

“I actually have spoken with Sen. Rubio on the issue and he has not backed away from wanting immigration reform at all,” Puzder said. “He does think it’s very difficult to do it unless you address illegal immigration first so there may be a step process to doing this. But he’s still a very strong advocate for getting immigration reform that’s effective and helps people, and he’s one of the leaders in our party on this issue.”…

[E]very source interviewed said that no matter how radioactive Rubio’s immigration record might be to the right, it has done nothing but help him in this early stage of the primaries, when filling the campaign war chest is the chief concern. Two Republican fundraisers who have met with Rubio — requesting anonymity to candidly assess his efforts — even expressed surprise at how enthusiastic the candidate has seemed in private to promote his work on the Senate’s immigration bill, given his strong reluctance to do so in public.

It’s true that legalizing illegals has remained part of Rubio’s immigration platform even after the Gang of Eight debacle. When Bob Schieffer asked him last Sunday if he’d sign the Gang of Eight bill as president, not only didn’t Rubio rule it out, he talked specifically about legalization as the third step in his new plan. (Step one: More security.) Norman Braman, who’s shaping up to be one of his biggest donors, told BuzzFeed, “He believes we have to secure the borders first, and I believe we have to secure the borders first.” But then you read that bit about how surprisingly “enthusiastic” Rubio has been in talking up his Gang of Eight work with the pro-amnesty donor class and you wonder how committed he can possibly be to holding the line on security as president if Democrats push hard, as they surely will. If this guy ends up winning backed by hundreds of millions of dollars from the GOP’s pro-legalization wing, how much can he dig in realistically once Chuck Schumer insists that a comprehensive bill is the only way to beat a Senate Democratic filibuster? President Cruz might be willing to hold the line on security because his base is on the right. Rubio’s base, increasingly, will be the center-right and monied establishmentarians. See why he couldn’t give Schieffer a straight answer?

But look. This is why I’ve said all along, contrary to conventional wisdom, that he did himself more good than harm by joining the Gang of Eight. Back in late 2012, when he was mulling whether to join the Gang or not and risk his goodwill among conservatives, I think the sort of pander that BuzzFeed is describing today is precisely what he had in mind. He thought about 2016, realized that no one wins the GOP nomination without having lots of donor-class money behind him, and calculated that the surest way to impress that class would be to go to bat for their pet issue notwithstanding the beating he’d take from tea partiers for it. He took his lumps and his polls dropped, but he knew when the time came that the people who really mattered in choosing a president would remember. And so they have, with Rubio himself happy to refresh the memory of anyone who might have forgotten. This is why I say he’s a smart tactician even when you hate the moves he’s making. He plays the long game, and it’s paying off. I wouldn’t bet against him.

In fact, between the goodwill he’s built with billionaire amnesty fans and the goodwill he’s built with billionaire superhawks, I wonder how much of a money edge Jeb will end up having over him. There’ll be some advantage, no doubt, but probably without the knockout potential that Jeb was counting on. Imagine the irony if Bush ends up losing the primary because another guy in the field convinced the donor class he’s more like Dubya than Jeb is. Speaking of which, in lieu of an exit question, a tribute to my two favorite flip-floppers: