Jeb Bush has always been on the immigration reform wing of the GOP. Like his brother, the former President, he was a successful governor of a state with a large Hispanic population. Both drew significant support from Hispanic voters. In the past few months, especially, he has been outspoken about both the need to reform our immigration system and to identify a policy solution for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country. Given how long he has been active on the issue, then, it is surprising how badly he stumbled this week.
In two days, Jeb Bush has staked out two different positions on the central issue of any immigration reform effort; what happens to the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country? Bush’s position on the issue was presumed settled. Last June, he gave an interview with CBS News’ Charlie Rose, in which he explained (emphasis mine):
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 residency of some kind.
Since that interview, Bush co-authored a book with Clint Bolick on the issue. On Monday, Bush appeared on NBC’s Today show to discuss the topic in advance of the book’s release. In the interview, Bush seemed to back away from supporting a path to citizenship:
Lauer: When it comes to a path to citizenship, you fall short on that.
After a day of questions as to whether or not Bush had flip-flopped on the issue of citizenship, he went on Morning Joe on Tuesday to state that he was still open to a path to citizenship.
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,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t see you how you do it, but I’m not smart enough to figure out every aspect of a really complex law.
Personally, I’m less concerned about Jeb Bush’s specific position on the issue, but far more concerned that even he doesn’t seem to know what it is. This isn’t some random or inside baseball issue he isn’t familiar with. He has just published a book on the issue and has made it a cornerstone for speculation about a run for the White House in 2016. It is as close to a core issue as he has.
Furthermore, the question is not one of those obscure provisions nestled in the nether-reaches of legislation. To many people, it is the central question that must be answered if the nation is to move forward with immigration reform.
In others words, its a question upon which one would expect a “thought-leader” on an issue to have a settled view. If Bush doesn’t have a fixed position on an issue on which he is viewed as an expert, how would a possible President Jeb Bush handle the daily curve balls that are part and parcel of the Presidency?
The Jeb Bush 2016 trial balloon may have deflated before it even took flight.