Jeb Bush: I'm going to try to persuade Republican voters to back immigration reform

The key bit comes at 1:20. BuzzFeed headlines this clip, “Jeb Bush Thinks He Can Persuade The Republican Base To Get Behind Immigration Legislation.” Is that what Bush said?

“A candidate gets to persuade,” Bush said to Miami’s NBC 6. “I think there’s a compelling case that if we want to be young and dynamic again, we have to make legal immigration easier than illegal immigration, that we control our borders, enforce the laws. But that we embrace our immigrant heritage and allow our country to take off. You gotta do both.”

“You gotta protect the borders, enforce the law, be respectful of the rule of law, and at the same time be able to encourage young aspirational people to come to our county,” Bush said. “It’s a win-win. I have no problems advancing that idea.”

Asked about it’s deep unpopularity again with the party base, Bush added “well we’ll see. If I run, we’ll see.”

It’s the reporter who mentions the base, i.e. conservatives. Bush is less specific, for good reason: His core strategy, I thought, was to accept that he can’t persuade conservatives and therefore shouldn’t try. The more you bend over backwards in the primaries to please them, a la Mitt Romney and “self-deportation,” the more trouble you’ll have maneuvering to the center in the general election. That’s what Bush’s weird “lose the primary to win the general” comment to fundraisers was about last week. (Then again, Romney didn’t pander on his core liability, RomneyCare. Some reversals, like Jeb turning hawkish on immigration, might seem too transparently opportunistic to voters to produce real benefits.) What he’s saying here, as I understand it, is that he’s going to try to convince his own particular base of centrists and “somewhat conservative” voters that they should embrace immigration reform — which isn’t a heavy lift, really. Lots of Republicans seem open to a deal on amnesty, just not the sort you’ll find on talk radio or writing for most conservative media. The trick for Bush isn’t convincing RINOs to back comprehensive legislation, it’s convincing them to back him to the hilt at the polls when, not if, the winner of the conservative mini-primary begins framing the nomination as a referendum on amnesty. Lots of tea partiers will turn out to try to beat Jeb if those are the stakes. Will centrists turn out in equal numbers to save him, especially with Obama’s executive order having further fouled the subject among GOPers?

Oh, speaking of Jeb drawing sharp contrasts with Romney, this tidbit from the NYT’s story today about his campaign launch is fun:

Further, the possibility of a third campaign by Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ 2012 standard-bearer, now seems less likely.  Some party elites were eying a Romney revival in large part because they were seeking a candidate formidable enough to take on former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Tension between supporters of the two Republicans have been rising, and at least one Romney adviser has expressed irritation to Mr. Bush’s backers about some of the former Florida governor’s recent criticism of Mr. Romney’s 2012 campaign.

Remember that when Mitt shocks the world and blows up Jeb’s campaign by jumping in next year. Romney III: This time it’s personal.

Exit question: Will anyone else competing for the centrist vote decide to try to persuade “somewhat conservative” voters to back amnesty? Most if not all of them, right? Christie will surely endorse a deal; I’ll be surprised if Walker doesn’t too; and Rubio already voted for a deal before trying desperately to run away from it. I’ve made this point before — as much as we’d like to think that the candidates’ stances on immigration will guide our preferences, the hard truth is that none of them will be very different from the others, with the possible exception of Cruz. And even Cruz isn’t going to take a Romneyesque “self-deportation” position; he might insist on a “security first” bill with legalization later but no path to citizenship, neglecting the fact that citizenship will inevitably follow for illegals once legalization is granted. The other candidates will be variations in degree, not in kind. E.g., Jeb might accept “security first” but endorse citizenship so long as there’s a long ripening period. Rand Paul might accept a comprehensive deal but with a long waiting period even for legalization. Rubio, eager to rehabilitate himself, will probably end up taking whatever position Cruz takes, knowing that moderates will reward him for his efforts on the Gang of Eight anyway. And if Romney jumps in, rest assured he’ll be firmly in the amnesty camp this time, the “self-deportation” stuff from 2012 notwithstanding. Republicans fear alienating Latino voters more than they already have. There’ll be no strong exceptions to that rule this time, or likely ever again.

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David Strom 8:41 PM on January 30, 2023