Right-wing commentators tend to over-estimate the role of ideology and underestimate the power of personality within the Republican Party. Too many right-leaning pundits are certain that even a single ideological deviation from conservative orthodoxy spells doom for a politician. But Republican voters, like all voters, look at candidates in context, assessing their positions on all issues, listening to the rationale for their supposed deviations and comparing them to the alternatives. That is how less-conservative presidential nominees were selected in 2008 and 2012.
Take a senator who thinks the feds shouldn’t be preempting the states on marriage, favors a pathway to citizenship and has an elaborate plan for education reform. Doesn’t sound like the darling of the right? Yet Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is riding high and can boast a fundraising haul of $2.3 million in the first three months of the year. (And that is with all the time he spent on legislative matters.) The Hill reports: “According to one Rubio aide, the fundraising for the first quarter of 2013 was better than the entire fundraising numbers for all of 2012.”
Many right-wing groups embrace the fallacy that one “wrong” vote can get a lawmaker booted; they seem devoted to the notion that conservatives should primary every Republican who steps out of line. Certainly, a critical vote — such as Obamacare — could swamp all other concerns, but voters aren’t going to dump a pol even if they disagree with him or her on an issue if that person is generally well-liked and has a convincing reason for the vote.
This was the message Resurgent Republic got from immigration reform polling and focus-group results. The group;s spokesman, Luke Frans, writes:
When presented without conditions, 51 percent of Republicans oppose immigration reform defined as “a pathway to citizenship that would allow foreigners who have jobs but are staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens.”
But when presented with the conditions likely to be in the Senate bill, such as having undocumented immigrants pass a background check and pay fines and back taxes, Republican views shift dramatically in favor, 73 percent.
This survey is far from an outlier. Other polling this year consistently shows two-thirds Republican support for immigration reform when outlining the conditions.
In short, whether on immigration or any other issue, voters can be more discerning than pundits. They don’t simply look at the final vote a lawmaker casts, but at the entire context of that vote. The more context a Republican can give — the more he can explain that he is pursuing practical means to conservative ends — the better off he will be. (And the better off the GOP will be, to be honest.) He might even flourish, be seen as courageous and win the party members’ hearts and minds.