Jeb Bush: Unlike certain Republican candidates, I don't bend with the wind on immigration

He said this on a conference call hosted by the Alabama GOP, which counts as one of its most honored members the leader of the anti-amnesty caucus in the U.S. Senate. Say this for Jeb: When he promised not to pander to conservatives in the name of winning the primaries, he meant it. Imagine how well received he’ll be on “Morning Joe” after he flames out of the race and does the inevitable Huntsman-esque media tour to explain how right-wing radicals stole the party from pragmatists like him.

Bush 2016: Resolute for amnesty. There’s a banner worth carrying into the general election.

And he said that he believes President Obama’s executive actions to change immigration laws will be eventually ruled unconstitutional by federal courts. He reiterated that he backs “a path to earned legal status, not citizenship, but earned legal status. Where people get a provisional work permit, where they pay taxes, they pay a fine, they learn English, they work, they don’t receive federal government assistance and they — over extended period of time — they earn legal status.”

Bush said he welcomed the opportunity to explain his views on both subjects “because I find it interesting that people who share that view — rather than stick with the view and try to persuade people about it — in many cases have actually abandoned their views. I think the next president is going to have tougher times dealing with these issues than dealing with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. If we’re going to bend with the wind, then it’ll be hard to imagine how we solve our problems.”

I wonder if that shot was aimed more at Rubio, whom many pros even in Florida now think will end up bypassing Jeb nationally, or at Scott Walker, whose immigration flip-flops (replete with name-checking Sessions) have been even more shameless than Rubio’s. If it’s the former, the bit about giving up on persuading people is unfair. That was the whole point of including Rubio in the Gang of Eight: Schumer et al. thought, not irrationally, that if there was anyone who could sell a comprehensive immigration bill to the GOP base, it was the young, smooth-talking, Latino superstar from the swing state whom tea partiers had sent to the Senate two years before. If Marco Rubio can’t make this happen, they figured, no one can. So Rubio tried, and not just in traditional pro-amnesty media outlets but in ones like conservative talk radio where he knew he’d take flak. And he did it knowing that if he failed to persuade righties, it might cost him his chance at the nomination in 2016. It’s a testament to his retail skill (and his confidence in that skill) that he was willing to accept a mission like that and able to extricate himself from it once he realized it was going nowhere such that he’s now still in the top tier of GOP contenders. In fact, even after having declared his candidacy, Rubio still takes care not to distance himself too much from the Gang of Eight bill. It’s not so much that he’s come to think it was a mistake, it’s that the votes simply aren’t there for it in the House. There’s no use continuing to try to persuade people, he argues, if a bipartisan campaign to pass the Gang of Eight bill two years ago went nowhere. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, he’s busy reminding GOP millionaires that he went to bat for them on amnesty, a wink-wink that he can be trusted to try again as president. Point being: It’s not so much that Rubio’s less willing than Jeb is to convince people to support amnesty, it’s that he’s smarter about when and where that persuasion should happen.

Also, since when is Jeb a model of unbending consistency on immigration reform? He supported a path to citizenship in 2012, then came out with a book in 2013 calling for a path to legal status but not citizenship (even though he knows that granting legal status to illegals will lead inexorably to citizenship), then said in an interview during the book tour that he’d support a path to citizenship if one could be devised that didn’t create an incentive for more illegal immigration. Wouldn’t a path to legal status create an incentive too? Rest assured, if he ends up as nominee and has to compete with Hillary for Latino voters, he’ll come up with a way to finesse his support for legal status so that a path to citizenship in some form also ends up on the table, especially once Democrats go after his plan as de facto “second-class status” for illegals. The smarter position — one now taken, not surprisingly, by Marco Rubio — is to avoid taking citizenship off the table while emphasizing that securing the border is an absolute prerequisite to legalization of any kind. If you fight this battle on the hill of “what rights should we grant to illegals?”, you’re fighting on Democratic turf. Fight it instead on “why can’t we secure our border as our first priority?” Why Jeb thinks he’s gaining some sort of advantage over Rubio, either in the primary or the general, by insisting on comprehensive reform instead of making a rhetorical move towards “security first” is baffling.