Jeb Bush: Never Mind My Immigration Shocker

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It's just a book! An old book! What did I say?
Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Yesterday, Jeb Bush appeared to suddenly blow up immigration reform by releasing a book that opposed a path to citizenship for current residents who immigrated illegally. It was a brutal and perplexing development, given that Bush was the Republican that Republicans had most counted on to coax their angry base into accepting reform.

This morning, the mystery was revealed. As Beth Reinhard explains, Bush wrote his magnum opus last year at a time when self-deportation and killer electrified fences were still de rigueur among the party faithful — Bush was defining a stance well to the left of the circa-2012 party orthodoxy. But the GOP has lurched even farther left since then, and there’s many a slip twixt the word processor and the distribution of the bound copy.

The usual ways these things work is that Republicans get tripped up when their party moves right and they’re caught with an old position that’s become unacceptably liberal. In this case, something like the opposite happened. It’s not that Bush will make himself unacceptable to activists, but rather that he’ll be caught standing in the way of a necessary compromise to secure a bill Republicans have decided they needed to get right with the Latino vote.

This morning, Bush started wriggling out of the trap he set for himself. On Morning Joe, he declared that this business about the path to citizenship is really just a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo that a humble country lawyer such as himself can’t really understand anyway:

If there is a difference, 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 see how you do it, but I’m not smart enough to figure out every aspect of a really complex law.

What Bush is saying here is that if Congress can somehow invent some tricky compromise that creates a path to citizenship without incentivizing illegal immigration, he’ll support it. Of course, that sort of compromise was always in the offing. The way you pass a law is to come up with a process that does that — or, at least, that both sides will believe does it. Which is to say, Bush is going to be onboard with his party in the end.

It's also telling that Bush is taking to mainstream rather than conservative media to patch up this little flub. (Right-wing talk radio host Laura Ingraham complains that Bush is snubbing her distinguished public affairs program for dreaded MSNBC.) Bush has always tried to occupy the most liberal yet acceptable ground on immigration within his party, and that's the space he's racing to seize again.