WaPo’s selling this as a semi-reversal of yesterday’s full reversal on citizenship for illegals, but I’m not sure that’s true. Watch the clip below (via Think Progress). He’s not saying that he’s suddenly changed his mind and now prefers citizenship to permanent residency. He’s saying that, hypothetically, if you could grant citizenship without creating a huge incentive for more people to cross the border, he’d be okay with that. Since there’s no way to do that, though, he’s sticking with the permanent residency option.

But wait. Here’s what he said yesterday on the subject of citizenship:

“Half the people who could have gotten amnesty in 1986 didn’t apply,” Bush said, referring to an immigration bill signed by President Ronald Reagan. “Many people don’t want to be citizens of our country. They want to come here, they want to work hard, they want to provide for the families, some of them want to come home, not necessarily all of them want to stay as citizens. That’s point number one. Point number two, there has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally. It’s just a matter of common sense and a matter of the rule of law. If we’re not going to apply the law fairly and consistently, then we’re going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming into the country.”

He’s right about that. Citizenship is key to comprehensive reform not because it’s something illegals necessarily want but because it’s something Democrats want for them. But if citizenship isn’t a top priority for people crossing the border, why worry that creating a path to it will act as a “magnet” for them? It’s legalization that’s a magnet, not citizenship, because legalization ensures that illegals who are here can stay and continue to work. And both Bush’s permanent residency plan and Rubio’s Senate bill (on day one!) guarantee legalization. Mark Krikorian made a similar point this morning in arguing that Bush’s half-a-loaf residency plan is not only a red herring but one which will achieve less for the GOP politically than Rubio’s more forthright amnesty:

Once the illegal population is legalized, the game is over — the amnesty will obviously never be revoked, and the Democrats will then launch a campaign against Republicans accusing them (correctly) of imposing on helpless Latinos a Jim Crow-style system of second-class status, something more appropriate to Saudi Arabia. If they go this way, the GOP candidate in 2016 will look back fondly on Romney’s 27 percent of the Hispanic vote — and he’ll have sabotaged his own base as well, resulting in an even further drop in blue-collar white turnout and Republican share.

Another thing. Bush writes in his book in arguing against citizenship, “It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences.” Okay, but in that case why would you even hypothetically support a path to citizenship? Even if one could be devised that satisfied Bush’s concerns about acting as a “magnet” for illegals, shouldn’t he still oppose the path on grounds that “actions have consequences”? As Byron York says, he’s making two different arguments here, one from pragmatism and one from principle. Yesterday he seemed to oppose the path on principle, as an improper reward for lawbreaking irrespective of the “magnet” effect. Today he’s all about the magnet, lawbreaking or no.

Hold on, though. Turns out the citizenship rhetoric isn’t even the most controversial part of Bush’s plan. Quote:

But the former governor also stakes out a position far to the left of those voters on border security that would only complicate a potential presidential bid. In the book titled Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, Bush is skeptical of the demand from many conservative Republicans – including Rubio – that illegal immigrants cannot seek legal residency until the border is secure. In fact, Bush echoes President Obama by pointing out that the border security is tighter than ever.

“Demanding border security as a prerequisite to broader immigration reform is a good slogan but elusive on the details and measurements,” the book says. “What exactly is the magic moment we must wait for before we can fix the broken immigration system?”

So Bush isn’t pounding the table, as Rubio is, for considerably stronger border enforcement before we start legalizing people? Why on earth would a guy who’s worried about a “magnet” effect from the new amnesty be sanguine about that? If anyone should be a stickler for tighter border control, it’s someone who worries about “waves” of new illegals being induced to cross over once a more forgiving immigration policy is enacted.