The plan worked brilliantly. Conservative talk-radio hosts who might have instinctively opposed immigration reform as conceived by Schumer gave Rubio a respectful hearing and a lot of room. When Rubio told them the bill would secure the border first, they believed him.
Later, when it became unavoidably clear that, in fact, the bill would first legalize millions of currently illegal immigrants, and only after that start the work of securing the border, some conservatives began to express skepticism, disappointment and opposition. But Rubio's neutralization campaign had bought the Gang precious months to write the bill and gather momentum before conservatives began to realize what was actually in it.
The Gang also got lucky. During the time the bill was under consideration, a lot of Republicans became distracted by various Obama administration troubles -- IRS targeting of conservatives, Justice Department spying on the press, NSA spying on everyone else, Benghazi. Immigration reform was simply less exciting than the latest scandal that might bring down the president. Then came Edward Snowden's catch-me-if-you-can flight, and, lastly, two big Supreme Court decisions that overshadowed immigration reform's final week in the Senate.
All that news tended to obscure the deep divisions inside the GOP over reform. Even with 14 Republicans voting yes on the Gang bill, more than twice that number, 32, voted no. And then, of course, there is the GOP-controlled House, where reform might well die.
But the Senate is finished, at least for now. Over the last several months, beyond deferring to Rubio, the only other thing some Republicans would say about immigration was, "We need to put this issue behind us." They were speaking politically, in the hope that they could vote for the Gang of Eight bill and then begin to reap benefits with Hispanic voters.
That's highly unlikely, but one thing is for sure: They have disappointed a lot of their conservatives supporters, most likely for a long time.
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