There are two reasons why the GOP might be moving toward the middle on immigration -- the party could be doing it for politics or for morality.
If it's for the first, the GOP is bound to be severely disappointed. If it's for the second, who cares about the politics? The reward is in the potential resolution of a societal problem.
So let's break this thing down.
1. POLITICAL REASONS
Before November 6, most Republicans who cared about immigration reform were against it.
Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were lonelier voices than Slipknot's at a Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert.
After all, the party nominated the ostensibly hardcore guy on immigration, Mitt Romney, and severely punished the more moderate guy, Rick Perry.
Of course, there were a lot things that felled Perry, but his decision to call opponents of the Dream Act "heartless" played a big role in his fall (even Chris Christie dinged him for it!).
But then Hispanics voted for Obama in greater numbers than even four years ago, and suddenly the GOP tuned in.
Guys like Charles Krauthammer brought it up on election night itself, and soon everyone from Sean Hannity to Bill O'Reilly were treating immigration as though it were a national crisis -- something had to be done, indeed.
In reality, they only seemed to view it as a political crisis, and thus, seemed to be hinting that a shift on immigration could solve their political woes.
In other words, they seemed to just be conceding that you can't concede the Hispanic vote and can't try to woo Hispanics while you're ignoring immigration reform.
2. MORAL REASONS
There are some Republicans, such as Marco Rubio, who view the immigration problem as a "humanitarian" problem.
Yes, they acknowledge the politics of it, but their work on the issue predated the GOP's sudden urgency.
To them, immigration reform isn't so much about fixing the party as it is fixing a problem.
It's not political; it's societal, and it's only political in that it takes politics to change society.
If, indeed, that's the mindset informing the GOP shift on immigration, then shifting toward the middle is a win-win move. You get a chance to solve something that's beyond politics, and the icing on the cake is that, hey, it MIGHT help you, politically.
But that's just icing.
The cake itself (immigration reform) is worth the effort.
WHY IT MATTERS
If Republicans are shifting on immigration for political gain, they're barking up the wrong tree.
First, Democrats will always offer a more liberal message and vision on immigration than Republicans.
That's because they can always one-up the GOP on the issue with limited political fallout from their base; whereas, Republicans have to proceed cautiously and perpetually worry about angering their base.
RCP's Sean Trende has been beating this drum for awhile.
....the simple fact is that the Democrats aren’t going to readily let Republicans get to their left on the issue in an attempt to poach an increasing portion of the Democratic base. If the GOP embraces things such as the DREAM Act, the Democrats can always up the ante.
In other words, if Republicans move toward the middle on immigration, it will just push Democrats further left, and there'll be a new middle and the GOP's new position will be considered the right wing position again.
Democrats can then just merrily lead the GOP further left whenever they want to.
The conservative writer, Conn Carroll, puts that line of argument today into context with the new, bipartisan immigration plan that ties legality and citizenship to increased border security.
All of these changes make the new plan much much worse for Republicans politically. Just take the border commission. Who do you think is most likely to say the border is already secure enough to grant citizenship to those legalized by this plan? That’s right, Democrats. And who do you think is least likely to say the border is secure? That’s right, Republicans.
Now guess which party will get blamed, and suffer politically, when the border is not declared “secure” regardless of the facts on the ground? Yup, Republicans. And while Republicans refuse to sign off on border security, legalized immigrants will be denied access to Obamacare subsidies or Medicaid expansion. Which party do you think they will blame for denying them health care?
BUT.... for the sake of argument, let's say the GOP actually can level the playing field with Democrats on immigration (a huge "if").
Well, then okay -- how will most Hispanics approach the GOP and Democratic party, electorally?
Probably, they'll look at the parties' respective records on other things (remember, Hispanics aren't one-issue voters any more than whites or blacks).
And, on nearly every other measure, Hispanics lean liberal.
I wrote about this last November (you can read it here), but Hispanics overwhelmingly favor more governmental involvement in their lives. Guess who else does? Democrats.
A quick list: 75% of Latinos say they'd rather raise taxes to keep Medicare as it is than reform it.
59% say it's government's responsibility to make sure everyone has healthcare, while only 26% say it's the individual's responsibility.
55% think the government should spend more to stimulate the economy, while only 29% think the government should lower taxes to stimulate the economy.
Only 20% of Hispanics support private Social Security investment accounts; 67% oppose them.
When it comes to confidence in government, Hispanics place more faith in the federal government than in business or even religious organizations.
And, get this, Hispanics are also much more likely to support same-sex marriage than the public, at-large.
So what's the point?
It's this: Even if the GOP potentially leveled the playing field with Democrats on immigration (again, a huge if), the majority of Hispanics will still certainly vote Democratic because of their support for the rest of the Democratic agenda.
Thus, if the GOP is trying to win Hispanics by shifting toward the middle on immigration, they've got a nasty surprise waiting for them. It will barely move the needle. In fact, it might not move it, at all.
That's why it's so crucial that the GOP has realistic expectations coming into this, and decides why it's doing what it's doing.
If the party is doing this for moral or ideological reasons, then, sure, they might be disappointed when Hispanics don't migrate to the party, but they'll still feel good for having dealt with the immigration problem.
But if the party is doing this for political purposes, they're bound to be incensed. Yes, Hispanics might view the GOP more favorably, but that doesn't mean they'll vote for Republicans.
When Bill Clinton passed welfare reform, conservatives looked more fondly on him, but they weren't any likelier to vote for him, and that's because they agreed with the GOP on most everything else.
Same thing with the majority of Hispanics.
If the GOP moves toward the middle on immigration, they might have warmer feelings for the GOP (just like how some cons had warmer feelings toward Clinton), but they'll still probably go for the party they agree with on immigration and most everything else -- the Democratic party.
That's why it's so crucial for Republicans to understand why they're really shifting on immigration?
If it's for political reasons, they will probably be severely disappointed in the political outcome.
If it's for moral reasons, the political outcome doesn't matter -- the moral resolution will be reward, in and of itself.