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Immigration Indignation

It's no secret. The Grand Old Party is in the middle of a major struggle over its future and ultimately its political identity.

On the surface it may appear that these clashes are over simple things like funding or messaging, or even finding the best candidate to run for office. But the truth is, it's over something more complex and consequential: identity.

True, the other aspects are important in the ability to convey one's values and aspirations and ultimately win converts. But mission is rooted in identity. You can't achieve your mission unless you're able to define who you are and what you're about.

Take for example the debate over immigration reform playing out in Washington.

The most contentious aspect is whether to include a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants already here in the United States, which is included in the Senate-passed version. While there may be a legitimate (moral or emotional) argument to include it, conservative-leaning Republicans may have an equally compelling argument against it or a limited form of so-called "amnesty" (economic or fairness).

Conservatives worry that it would increase the national deficit because so many undocumented workers provide low-skilled labor, which, according to Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, tends to be a "fiscal drain" on economy. (He points to research that shows low-skilled workers take in more benefits than they pay in taxes.)

Economists can debate the true impact. But what sours the ability to argue the issue legitimately are remarks like the one made by Iowa Republican Steve King. (There's no need to repost the widely-distributed remarks here.) Such comments do nothing but pollute the debate, damage the party brand, and de-legitimize the position, which is why House Speaker John Boehner immediately came forward with a public rebuke of Rep. King's "deeply offensive and wrong" statement. Recall, just days earlier, Speaker Boehner claimed he was "Switzerland" and expressed he had no view on immigration.

There is a rift among conservatives. Prominent conservative leaders Sammy Rodriguez and Carlos Campo spent time this week on Capitol Hill lobbying for comprehensive immigration reform. Campo, president of Regent University, prayed for a change of heart for lawmakers ahead of the House debate.

"Inaction is not an option," he said. "We join together in prayer and belief and support the representatives of our country to do the right thing: to bring our nation together again and heal it through immigration reform that will be lasting."

That's a very different view from among many in the House GOP who are against comprehensive reform. Until Republicans can heal the divide over this and many other issues, it may prove harder and harder to win elections, let alone more converts to the party.