Just to close the loop on Jeb Bush’s immigration controversy, the former Florida governor has spent the last couple of days crawling out of a ditch he put himself in, and it appears he’s almost out. It’s still unclear, however, how the Republican managed to screw up this badly in the first place.
To briefly recap, Bush, an active participant in the larger debate over immigration reform, endorsed a pathway to citizenship as recently as six weeks ago. On Monday, with the release of his new book, Bush took the opposite position, saying he now opposes citizenship. Yesterday morning, Bush told msnbc his position is complicated, but he’s open to the possibility of a pathway to citizenship. Later in the day, he told CNN he can support “both a path to legalization or a path to citizenship.”
What in the world is going on with this guy? By lunchtime yesterday, Bush’s new line was that he was thrown off by his publishing deadline.
When Bush and coauthor Clint Bolick were writing the book during the 2012 presidential campaign, the GOP was veering far to the right. Republican nominee Mitt Romney had staked out a hard-line position against illegal immigration, blasting his primary rivals as pro-amnesty and promoting “self-deportation” for undocumented workers. Bush sent the book to the printer before Christmas – weeks before a handful of Senate Republicans embraced a sweeping overhaul that, like the proposals backed by Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, would allow illegal immigrants to earn citizenship.
In other words, Bush’s party unexpectedly moved a lot faster than the book-publishing world.
Here’s the deal: Bush was comfortable staying to his party’s left on immigration policy. When Mitt Romney ran on the most anti-immigrant platform in a generation, Bush figured he could oppose both Romney’s “self-deportation” vision and a pathway to citizenship, occupying a sort of centrist middle ground. But much of his party moved to the left faster than he expected, leaving Bush with a book that left him to the right of most GOP leaders.
At least, that’s his newest story. There’s reason to believe Bush isn’t being entirely honest.
For one thing, in this latest explanation, Bush blames his publishing deadline – he wrapped up the book in mid-December, staking out a position against a pathway to citizenship before the Senate’s bipartisan plan was unveiled. If that were true, why did Bush then co-write a Wall Street Journal op-ed in January – a month after he turned in his book – endorsing the same policy his book said he rejects?
For another, as Steve M. noted, all kinds of prominent Republican voices, including Sean Hannity and Lindsey Graham, were endorsing a pathway to citizenship immediately after Election Day in November. How could Bush have missed the writing on the GOP’s wall about where the debate was headed?
Also note, the Florida Republican isn’t getting tripped up on some obscure detail of a policy debate he doesn’t understand – immigration is supposed to be Jeb Bush’s best subject. The former governor, allegedly an intellectual heavyweight in Republican politics, has positioned himself as a credible, leading voice on the ins and outs of immigration policy.
And yet, over the last few months, Bush has been for, against, for, against, sort of for, and largely OK with the most important provision in the debate over comprehensive reform.
The Hill, noting that Bush has been out of public office for six years, may be showing “rust” as he re-enters public life in earnest. That’s not quite the first word that comes to my mind, but I suppose it’s as good as any.