It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Republicans of both the conservative and libertarian variety need to coexist in order for the party to have a viable future. In fact, on many issues the libertarian wing is taking the lead. Insofar as the Tea Party is about smaller government, lower taxes, less debt, and more personal freedom, it’s operating in deeply libertarian territory. But somehow Rubio’s intent is a sin so unforgivable that many had written him off as just another RINO in the mold of John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

It should be noted that in 2013, the same year he took up the issue of immigration reform, raising the hackles of some conservatives, Marco Rubio scored a 96 on the American Conservative Union’s ratings, following up on a perfect 100 in 2012 and 2011. National Journal has Rubio rated as the 17th most conservative Republican in the Senate. Notably, the libertarian-leaning Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who many see as a 2016 contender, is 19th.

Senator Paul espouses some views that I’d argue are just as qualitatively at odds with conservatism, if not more so, than Rubio’s views on immigration. For example, in the arena of foreign policy Paul is decidedly a non-interventionist. Still, I like Rand Paul and would vote for him in a New York minute if he were to be the Republican nominee in 2016.

I wonder when immigration reform became the litmus test on conservatism. Who made it that way? I wonder how a guy whom conservatives agree with on almost every single issue can be discarded at the drop of a hat because he differs with them on one — one which is way down the list of most voters’ priorities.

You’ve got to believe that eventually the millions of illegal aliens in the U.S. will be given legal status. And it would be foolhardy for the Republican Party to appear to be a group of nativists. One of the greatest rebuttals to liberalism is that it was largely the Democrats who opposed civil rights legislation in the 1960s. If not for Republicans, who were in the minority at the time, those laws would have never passed. Today blacks are overwhelmingly Democrats, but that doesn’t invalidate the rightness of the civil rights legislation itself. We need to have a real debate about how best to spread conservatism among minorities, but that’s a separate issue.

As the GOP prepares to possibly regain control of the Senate and to extend its majority in the House, the party has a golden opportunity to dictate the terms under which these illegals pass from the darkness of the underground economy into the light of legal status for the benefit of all Americans. But even if immigration reform isn’t passed in the near future, we should stop using this as a wedge issue on ourselves.