Unlike Congress’ 2007 attempt at immigration reform, this year’s debate hasn’t caused a full-scale revolt on the Right. Many credit Rubio’s salesmanship for that, and his backers believe his willingness to invest the political capital he had earned from conservatives could pay off big, both in a Republican presidential primary and a general election campaign.

To that end, Rubio has assembled an experienced political team that is laying the foundation for a 2016 White House bid, should he decide to make the race. The senator’s fundraising operation is modeled on the multicommittee architecture typical of presidential campaigns and designed to ease the process of contributing. His steering committee of about a dozen insiders includes well-connected Republicans like lobbyists Wayne Berman and Bill Paxon.

Major Republican power players believe Rubio’s efforts on behalf of immigration reform would help him win over Hispanic voters — the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc — and broaden the party’s appeal generally. At the very least, they predict, the political blowback from conservatives will have dissipated by the time the 2016 GOP primaries get under way.

Because of Rubio’s positions on illegal immigration in his Senate campaign, his current support for a path to citizenship has opened him up to the sensitive charge of flip-flopping. But with his unalterably conservative voting record on almost every other issue in Congress, Rubio’s supporters believe that his role in the Gang of Eight will be an overall positive, showing less partisan voters and the news media that he is willing to compromise with opponents to solve difficult problems.