Why immigration reform (probably) never had a chance

House Speaker John Boehner speaks to the media during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013.
(Image credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

This is not an "I Told You So." It was apparent fairly quickly that while the external political pressure on Republicans to pass immigration reform increased dramatically after the last election, the forces that hold the party together haven't abated.

Stars have aligned in weirder ways before, but I'm on the side of those who thinks that the House simply will not pass any immigration bill that makes "amnesty" a possibility.

Here's what's been constant:

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The GOP leadership has not had control over its rank and file since the advent of the Tea Party movement, or, really, since the election of Barack Obama, or even since the nomination of John McCain.

John Boehner has no way to persuade enough rank-and-file members to change their votes on immigration. By "no way," I mean no way except for an appeal to the better angels of their nature. This is not a very effective appeal coming from a pragmatist.

Boehner has had to rely on paths given to him by political enemies in order to get breathing room for his conference.

Boehner is not willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of immigration reform. He could easily bring a bill to the floor, any bill, and get it passed, and then appoint conferees who will move toward the Senate version of the bill. But he won't. If he did that, he'd be canned. Hence his "majority of the majority" rule, the Hastert rule, which is both a reflection of, and a contributor to, the anti-governing spirit within the Republican Party.

The louder parts of the GOP base, the talk radio hosts, are resolutely against compromise on immigration. Even Sean Hannity, who flip-flopped the day after the 2012 election because he (temporarily?) agreed with the smarties in his party that principles had to be exchanged for expediency, is now back where he was. Why? That's where his listeners and viewers are.

It is absolutely true that immigration reform will probably boost Democratic political fortunes in the near-term. And is absolutely true that, by the time Republicans might benefit from changing perceptions of their party, the majority of people in their conference today will be doing something else.

It is also absolutely true that if the media says something MUST be done and even WILL be done, the collective, the instinctive response of the conservative base is basically a snap followed by, "Oh, no you don't."

So: How do you reckon that John McCain, or even Paul Ryan, can change any of this?

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