A battle is always raging for the soul of American conservatism. It is a battle between those who would find a familiar place to hunker down, and those who would risk engagement with ideas and the world.
There have always been those who would reduce the conservative impulse to something narrow and mean and afraid - an exclusive little club restricted to Our Kind of People, rather than a great, open, embracing faith.
The great political achievement of Ronald Reagan was to transform a cozy club into a populist movement, and his example remains instructive. Much like Lincoln before him, The Great Communicator was willing to accept the know-nothings' votes, but he drew the line at substituting their prejudices for his principles.
In Mr. Lincoln's day, the Know-Nothings actually had a party, and its bogeyman was the Roman Catholic Church. Today's demagogues use the latest wave of immigrants to much the same effect.
Today the party of Lincoln is being told it should demand that all illegal immigrants be deported, even if that means breaking up families, disrupting the economy and denying immigrant mothers medical care and their children an equal right to a college education.
Does anyone think these children will forget how their families, their mothers and fathers, were treated once they grow up to become voters, as they surely will? Childhood hurts endure, and their fruit is bitterness.
Do we really want to let that kind of bitterness take root? Immigrant families once instilled an undying gratitude and reflexive patriotism in their children. I know. I was an immigrant's child. Are we now going to plant resentment instead?
Cracking down on these newcomers and their children may be a good way to win the next election - and lose the next generation.
Tempting as it may be to demagogue the issue of illegal immigration, now is no time for conservatives to retreat to that dark little shop.