Republicans who believe they can never persuade people who don’t currently support them to vote for the GOP will likely vote against immigration reform.

Jeb Bush put it succinctly: “If the argument is all is lost, then all is lost.” His brief interview with Peter Robinson is illuminating:

It is peculiar that so many right-wingers believe that the future of conservativism requires excluding millions of Hispanics from ever entering the electorate.

Republicans who think the United States can do without Danny — the 26-year-old Chinese immigrant and entrepreneur who allegedly was carjacked by the Boston bombers, escaped and helped the police track down the Tsarnaevs — probably will vote against immigration reform.

Republicans who think we are better off without billions of dollars dedicated to border enforcement, an E-Verify system, an exit-visa tracking system and a physical fence (or who imagine they can obtain all that without granting a pathway to citizenship) also are likely to oppose immigration reform.

The question then is whether a substantial number of Republicans and GOP lawmakers are grounded in the real world and sincere about the universality of the American dream and conservatism’s efficacy as a governing philosophy.

The opponents’ anger and loudness obscure, I believe, the reservoir of common sense in the Republican Party, in which a majority does believe that:

  • The free market needs to maximize the influx of brainy and motivated people from around the world;
  • The GOP cannot politically or morally survive appealing only to white voters;
  • Even imperfect border security is better than virtually no border security;
  • Bringing 11 million people out of the underground economy into the free market and paying income tax is a positive thing;
  • National security is improved by getting a handle on who is here, who leaves in a timely fashion after their visas expire and who has a criminal record; and
  • The status quo of non-enforcement is unacceptable.

Immigration reform is the most important of the current debates for Republicans, more so than taxes or entitlement reform, as its outcome will set the trajectory for the party for years to come. Will the GOP innovate, ignore reactionary voices, pursue a reform agenda and embrace 21st-century America? Or will it hunker down and insist that the only problem is insufficient volume and ferociousness, entranced by the illusion that all it needs to survive as a national party is turning out more and more older, white men?

That fight between reactionaries and reformers is at the heart of the immigration debate. Republicans who are not defeatist and pine for a viable party (one that ignores crackpots and rejects conspiratorial theories) better hope the Gang of Eight succeeds. Those who want reformers to have the wind at their back should hope that the naysayers, for whom the object is always to dismantle reform legislation and never improve it, don’t wind up on top. Otherwise, heaven help the GOP.