Rep. Trey Gowdy
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), second from left, had interesting things to say about immigration reform. (Bill O’Leary / The Washington Post)

There is a great misnomer propagated by the anti-immigration right that House Republicans who vote for immigration reform are taking a big risk. In fact, the upside of voting for a comprehensive bill is much greater than the downside.

Let’s start with the country’s immigration outlook. A  new Washington Post-ABC poll shows that Americans favor the path to citizenship by a 55-41 percent margin. When asked about adding 700 miles of fence and 20,000 border agents support soars to 64-32 percent with a margin of 84-15 percent among Republicans. What isn’t asked of Republicans is whether if they got the border security measure they’d accept a path to citizenship. That really is the question. (Other polling suggests when border security and other elements of the Gang of Eight bill are added, support among Republicans sails above 50 percent.)

Right now the House has done nothing on the border security front and nothing on a pathway to citizenship. That is not exactly a formula designed to get support from either Democrats or Republicans. In fact, large percentages of Americans in many polls think the current immigration system is broken. In sum, a do-nothing House approach is arguably the worst of all worlds.

Well, don’t individual GOP House members face the threat of losing their seats? Not really. For those not in safe districts (fewer than a dozen members), they have to appeal to Democrats and Republicans to win in the general election. Disappointing both on refusing to fix a broken immigration system isn’t smart politics.

And those scared of facing a primary from anti-immigration right wingers should get a grip. Buzzfeed points out:

[I]nterviews with operatives, campaign aides, and activists from groups like the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, as well as a review of recent election data, suggests the likelihood of Republicans facing serious primary challenges is not only overstated but probably won’t have much of anything to do with immigration.

“We don’t care about immigration reform,” said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller with a chuckle, explaining his organization remains solely focused on “economic issues … [and] pro-growth policies.”

As for Heritage Action, the one major group that is involved in the immigration fight, they’re not expected to spend any money in the 2014 primary cycle.

So if a congressman doesn’t have a good enough relationship with his constituents to fend off unfunded challengers and can’t explain the border provisions he supported, I guess he should worry. But then he’d have bigger problems, I suspect.

Moreover, most congressmen have higher ambitions. If so, they might notice that GOP pols with national standing who will have to appeal to a broad swath of the electorate are invariably pro-immigration reform (e.g. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan). Mitt Romney’s anti-immigration vitriol (“self-deport” might be the most counterproductive wording ever used by a GOP presidential contender) didn’t help bring out the white vote and killed him with Hispanics and other minorities.

Perhaps that’s why House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) is already speaking out in favor of some sort of Dream Act proposal to address those children brought here illegally by their parents. Ryan is working studiously behind the scenes to do so. That may also explain, in addition to his longstanding advocacy on the merits, why Ryan is working for immigration reform:

Ryan says any immigration legislation has to address the question of the 11 million living in the U.S. unlawfully. Improving border security alone is not enough.

‘‘You can’t fix the system, in my opinion, this is my personal opinion, without coming up with a viable solution for the undocumented and it’s got to be a solution that respects the rule of law, that doesn’t grant amnesty, that respects the person who came legally from the beginning by making sure that those who are undocumented go to the back of the line, and I think we can come up with that,’’ he said. . . .

‘‘There are lots of different pockets of parties here in the House. And I’ve always believed from passing budgets and other big pieces of legislation that listening to members, talking with members, negotiating is the most effective way of getting things over the finish line,’’ he said in a recent interview. ‘‘It’s kind of more of a workhorse role than a show horse role only because I just find that’s the most effective way of getting things through the House.’’

Support for a more conservative alternative to immigration reform that fixes conservative complaints about the Senate bill would certainly be the smart move for congressmen concerned about failure to deliver on this issue or who entertain dreams of becoming major national players.

Doing nothing on border security, nothing on H-1B visas and nothing on the Dream Act isn’t very appealing to voters of any political stripe. The do-nothing position is safest only for those GOP members in low-minority districts with a weak relationship with constituents and no ambitions for higher office. Other than that, the smart move is to address illegal immigration, a problem conservatives have been complaining about for years.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.