Jeb Bush was the immigration guy in the Republican Party. He's the Spanish-speaking former Florida governor who criticized his party during the presidential race for moving too far to the right on immigration. But now, there's a new immigration guy — Bush's protege, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — and suddenly Bush's position on immigration is very confused. In June 2012, he supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Sometime in December, just before his new book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, went to press, he opposed a path to citizenship. On Tuesday morning, Bush was kinda sorta maybe open to citizenship again. Why? The short answer: "We wrote this book last year, not this year," Bush said on MSNBC Tuesday.
Here are Bush's three positions in nine months:
- "You have to deal with this issue. You can't ignore it, and so either a path to citizenship, which I would support — and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives — or a path to legalization, a path to residency of some kind," Bush told PBS's Charlie Rose in June 2012.
- "A grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage," Bush says in his book, published in March.
- "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, I'm for it. I don't have a problem with that. I don't know see you do it. But I'm not smart enough to figure out every aspect of a really complex law," Bush said on MSNBC's Morning Joe Tuesday.
As National Journal's Beth Reinhard explains, Bush's book went to press before Christmas, and "Bush's party moved a lot faster than the book-publishing world." Rubio and seven other senators have been working on an immigration reform plan that includes a path to citizenship, and Rubio has been working the conservative talk radio circuit to sell it. Bush's book won't help that. Becky Tallent, director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told National Journal that it will be harder for the Rubio-led Senate gang to sell citizenship to republicans. CPAC chair Al Cardenas said, "There seems to be growing support on the GOP side of the House for precisely the solution that Gov. Bush prescribes."
Which means we can add one more to the long list of GOP feuds. This one, between Bush and Rubio, is one issue Republicans think they need most to start winning national elections, and probably not one Bush intended to start. Passages in his book indicate the man Bush was trying to define himself against was a character in much worse standing among conservatives: Mitt Romney. "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 writes. "Although Romney eventually called for comprehensive immigration reform, a platform that hardened the party’s stance on immigration hung like an anvil around his candidacy." Romney campaign aides did not like that. An anonymous Romney adviser told The Miami Herald's Marc Caputo,
"Where the hell was this Jeb Bush during the campaign?... He spent all this time criticizing Romney and it turns out he has basically the same position. So he wants people to go back to their country and apply for citizenship? Well, that’s self deportation. We got creamed for talking about that. And now Jeb is saying the same thing."
Bush told Caputo, "I am not advocating self-deportation." To clarify: A person willingly going back to her home country to reapply for a visa sounds like self-deportation. But self-deportation actually refers to a set of policies — enacted most famously in Alabama — that make life so miserable for immigrants that returning to their home country is preferable to staying in the U.S. In Alabama lawmakers, for example, made it a crime for a charity to help an illegal immigrant. That being said, Bush and Romney have so much in common! Like sacrificing popular moderate views for what is politically expedient within the Republican Party. Bush says his presidential ambitions are currently in the not-ruling-anything-out phase.