Jeb Bush Flip Flops Twice On Immigration (UPDATED)

Hey, it’s not even 2016 yet and we’re already able to watch Olympics level flip flops from an Oval Office hopeful:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday that he would support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants “if you can craft that in law where you can have a path to citizenship where there isn’t an incentive for people to come illegally” — a position that puts him at odds with his new book, out today from Simon & Schuster.

In Immigration Wars, co-authored with immigration lawyer Clint Bolick, Bush agues that denying a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrations is “absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences.” Those who enter the country illegally, Bush contends, should “start the process to earn permanent legal residency” after pleading guilty to breaking the law and paying “applicable fines or perform community service.” But they should not have access to “the cherished fruits of citizenship”

This isn’t the first time someone has ignored a book they’re closely linked to. Just look at all the scandals involving clergymen.

There’s no doubt Jeb Bush is one of the potential powerhouses in the Republican Party. As The Week/s Marc Ambinder notes, his biggest (perhaps political fatal) handicap is his last name. But he was a highly popular Florida Governor who appealed to many different categories of voters, and is the kind of Republican many voters who left the Republican Party or who’d be inclined to support the GOP would want to see run — and could support. And when Jeb talks, the media — and fundraisers — listen.

Still, there was always the question of who Jeb Bush might emulate if he ran for President.

Would he emulate his father George H.W. Bush?

Would he emulate his brother GWB?

Would he emulate Ronald Reagan?

With this breathtakingly quick flip flopping, it seems he may be emulting Mitt Romney.

Still, there is an important political context to this second flip-flop: if Bush was using his new book to launch himself into the 2016 Republican presidential sweepstakes it was a poor launch because his first perceived flip flop on immigration was seen as a huge political mistake and reportedly enraged one former Romney staffer who noted Bush’s criticism of Romney’s hard-line position on immigration during campaign 2012.

Is this perceived second flip flop a quick political course correction? The Daily Beast’s John Avlon points out that Jeb — who many including Bush family members thought would be the one to follow his father into the Oval Office — could be someone who could rebrand and unite the GOP. Here’s part of his extensive column:

Moon Reagan and Don Nixon never got this kind of reception.

But Jeb Bush, the brother and son of presidents, is already getting the full-court press to run for the White House in 2016. The Drudge Report went breathless with banner headlines on Monday when Jeb refused to rule out a future run on the Today show while promoting his new book with Clint Bolick, Immigration Wars.

The title of the book itself indicates that this isn’t a typical courtship. Jeb is presenting himself as a policy wonk and party reformer, not the typical approach to winning the GOP nomination. And for all the institutional benefits of being a Bush—a ready-made political and fundraising structure fueled by the promise of restoration to power—the reality is that his prospects would be far better if his last name were anything but “Bush.”

With another surname, Jeb would have catapulted to the top ranks of contenders back in 2012 on his own merits, as a popular former swing-state governor with a bold record as an education reformer and demonstrated success at winning over Hispanic voters. After Mitt Romney tanked the party’s performance with Hispanics in the last election, most Republicans realize that they need to change course and begin reaching out in earnest. That’s why Jeb’s leadership pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, alongside his brother’s Commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Jeb’s Florida mentee Marco Rubio, is one of the most hopeful prospects for breaking through Washington gridlock this Congress.

A mark of Jeb’s seriousness is his willingness to criticize party power players. Romney comes under particular fire in Immigration Wars for his primary-campaign tactics. “By sharply criticizing Texas governor Rick Perry for his in-state tuition program for certain children of illegal immigrants, and by making his leading immigration advisor a prominent proponent of ‘self-deportation,’ Mitt Romney moved so far to the right on immigration issues that it proved all but impossible for him to appeal to Hispanic voters in the general election,” Bush and Bolick write. “However little or much anti-immigration rhetoric counts in Republican primaries, it surely succeeds in alienating Hispanic voters come the general election.”

This is true—and rarely said so bluntly by Republicans with presidential aspirations. Jeb also points out that Romney tanked with Asian-American voters and takes to task conservative pundits such as Heather MacDonald and Sam Francis who have advised the GOP to resist trying too hard to court Hispanic voters. Likewise, Jeb is one of the few potential presidential aspirants willing to publicly question the wisdom of Grover Norquist’s tax “pledge,” writing: “I ran for office three times. The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge. I cut taxes every year I was governor. I don’t believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people.”

Avlon gives a more nuanced explanation on Bush’s seeming flip flops on immigration than I do here and has an interview with the book’s author. He concludes his post with this:

Beyond the obstacles provided by his famous last name, one of the biggest considerations for Jeb before embarking on a presidential run is familial, according to sources. He has always played the dutiful son and brother—a role compounded by his responsibilities as a father and husband. His son George P. Bush is likely to run for land commissioner in Texas. His namesake son had been considering a run for Congress in the 26th Florida District seat lost by David Rivera but decided to keep working alongside his father in their family consulting company, Jeb Bush & Associates. His daughter, Noelle, appears to have won a battle with substance abuse, a common subplot for many American families. And his wife, Columba, has never been considered an enthusiastic participant in political campaigns, despite being a popular first lady of Florida.

The next presidential campaign is still a long way away, and I generally resist the impulse to write about the horserace when the main event of governing is going on. But Jeb is uniquely positioned to help resolve, or at least heal, the emerging GOP civil war. Americans have no love of aristocracy or political dynasties, but the Bushes have emerged as one of the few Republican brands that can unite all the fighting factions beneath the GOP banner. An unexpected dynasty, they bridge the Reagan-Bush years, connecting the remnants of the Northeastern establishment with contemporary Sunbelt conservatives and national security hawks.

That Jeb has deep credibility with the most important emerging constituency, Hispanic voters, and a genuine interest in policy initiatives make him a logically attractive if far from inevitable candidate. The potential for a 2016 presidential campaign that pits the Bushes versus the Clintons again—no doubt rebranded as just “Jeb” versus “Hillary”—is cause for some civic despair and nausea. But this Bush deserves credit for engaging in contentious debates and calling out the extremes in his own party. It is the kind of leadership we need to see more of in the GOP, whatever last name is attached.

Yes: except for political partisans who want to just dismiss him for his politically-diminished last name, Jeb Bush is most assuredly not a carbon copy of GWB and has been steadfast in articulating the belief that the Republican Party shouldn’t be kicking people out of its tent, but should be building a bigger tent and offering a bigger menu than right wings and tea — and actually listening to and calmly discussing policy with those with whom it does not agree, rather than demonizing them.

It’ll be a tough hike.

And if Jeb Bush is seen as putting on his hiking boots rather than flip flops, it’s do-able.

Follow more blog reaction HERE.

UPDATE: First Read adds some more perspective:

*** Jeb Bush lays down his marker: With his new book and all the interviews he’s given over the past 24 hours (including to NBC News), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is sending the signal he wants to be a key player in the political debates about immigration and the future of the Republican Party. And he’s not ruling out a potential 2016 bid, either. “I’ve accomplished some things in my life that allow me now to have that kind of discretion to be able to think about [a White House bid],” Bush told one us yesterday. Think about it: Had Hillary Clinton said what Bush did — that is, leaving the 2016 door wide open — it would have produced a political earthquake in Washington. Now this doesn’t mean that Bush will run (he still has to contend with his last name and being out of politics since 2006). And it also doesn’t mean he’d clear the field if he does run (but he would probably start out as the front-runner). But what Bush is doing is essentially saying, “Save a seat for me at the table,” whether it’s 2016 or the GOP’s future. And it is significant that, after nearly a decade of some Republicans asking (even begging) for Jeb to truly step into the national spotlight, he’s finally saying yes. Make no mistake: Every major Republican donor and power player in the country who prefers to be with a front-runner than a longshot now has to wait to see what Jeb’s going to do before signing on with someone else.

*** Don’t make TOO MUCH of Bush’s opposition to a path to citizenship: The big policy news from Bush’s new book on immigration reform, as well as from his numerous media interviews, is that he apparently opposes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That pathway is something he’s supported in the past, and something that the bipartisan group of senators pushing for comprehensive reform has advocated. But as Bush points out, he was working on this book well before that bipartisan group produced its immigration framework containing a path to citizenship. “Remember this is a proposal that we attempted to put out prior to the election, to create a consensus for conservatives to actually get in the game,” Bush said in his interview with NBC News. (As National Journal’s Beth Reinhard writes, “In other words, Bush’s party unexpectedly moved a lot faster than the book publishing world.”) Bush also said that a path to citizenship — if it’s included in the final legislation — isn’t a deal-breaker for him. “I think we need comprehensive reform. And if there is a path to citizenship that has enough of a realization that we have to respect the rule for law, then so be it.” Bush seems to be tacitly admitting that he was trying to craft a proposal that would get broad support from Republicans. As it turns out, many in the GOP moved faster to the citizenship idea than Bush thought. For more on where Bush sees the GOP, his brother’s legacy, Rick Scott, the Cuban-American vote in Miami and more, see the full interview on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” later this morning.

Flip flops graphic via shutterstock.com

  

8 Comments

  1. Jeb’s flip flop on immigration is of course a signal to those in his party who may have concerns about him being too moderate. Pretty disappointing actually.

  2. I think this flip flop is an attempt to put himself to the right of Rubio but I think it will backfire.

  3. Plenty of room for flip flopping on this complicated subject.

    My question is, if I assume correctly JB will be the Rep nominee, who would be best to oppose him. HC, JB, Jk, or someone else? My premise is that JB will carve out a fair percentage of the Hispanic vote.

  4. I don’t know that he’s necessarily the front runner for the GOP in 2016. As far as I can tell, you have Bush, Rubio, Christie, Martinez and McDonnell as the front runners. I’m not including Perry in this with abysmal approval numbers in Texas. They all bring solid approval numbers to the race and (depending on how the 2014 elections go) may be able to keep from having to go so far to the right that they can’t convincingly come back to a more moderate position.

    I absolutely would love to see a HC v. SM campaign. I think that race more than any other would most settle where the country is on women’s issues. Not that that is only reason they’d run or offer as candidates.

  5. Jeb will win the primary. I keep forgetting that Jeb is in the running in 2016. I guess the GOP has one horse in the stable.

  6. If Jeb plans to “carve out a fair percentage of the Hispanic vote” he might want to think about choosing a story on immigration and sticking to it.

  7. Nobody likes ideologues either.

  8. Maybe not, but their influence is real and has been for a long time. If Jeb does run, he’ll have a tightrope to walk.

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