GOP leaders have had limited success in keeping the deep divisions in their congressional ranks out of the public eye; they have had none at all in concealing the party's increasingly acrimonious rift over immigration reform.
The deep and widening divide features dueling think tanks, pits party heavyweights against each other, jeopardizes the party's chance of reversing its slide among increasingly influential Hispanic voters, and tarnishes the presidential prospects of some of its rising young stars.
The bipartisan Senate Gang of Eight this week is to start putting the finishing touches on a long-overdue immigration bill, with its most controversial provision being an offer of an eventual path to citizenship to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country.
The bill has been championed by Sen. Marco Rubio, a 2016 presidential possibility and the GOP's current great Hispanic hope. He has increasingly been joined by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee, chief economic spokesman and ex officio in the running for 2016. Newly elected Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, another up and comer, is a member of the bipartisan Gang.
On the eve of Senate committee consideration, the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, newly headed by archconservative former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, issued a report saying that the proposed immigration bill would cost the taxpayers a net $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years.
The report is said to be deeply flawed -- predicting the future 50 years from now is suspect in itself -- and Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor, GOP national chairman and all-around party statesman, dismissed the Heritage study as "a political document; it's not a very serious analysis." The bill's backers have a study by their own think tank, the American Action Forum, headed by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former head of the Congressional Budget Office and chief economic adviser to GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also a member of the Gang of Eight.
Holtz-Eakin's study predicts that the U.S. economy and population will stagnate because of low birth rates and that immigration reform will boost annual gross domestic product by a percentage point and reduce the federal deficit by $2.5 trillion over 10 years.
Depending on how the immigration debates plays out, when people talk about a "two-party system" they may be talking about the Republicans, with the Democrats in the role of designated national kibitzer.
Dale McFeatters is a syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.