Senate Republicans involved in touchy negotiations to overhaul immigration laws reaffirmed their commitment Tuesday to establishing a path to citizenship for those now living in the United States illegally — despite a surprising defection on the key issue from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush…

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the group, said he was “surprised” by Bush’s proposal, particularly since it comes from a governor who had long been out front on the need for an immigration overhaul and is well-liked in the Hispanic community…

“From a policy point of view, I don’t think it’s the right approach. I don’t like the idea of having millions of people here for their entire life without being able to assimilate into America,” he said. “From a political point of view, we’ve got 55 Democrats sent and a 72 percent support for a path to citizenship. It’s just not practical to think we’ll be able to pass any bill in the United States Senate without a path to citizenship.”

Bush’s new position is also substantially to the right of that of Sen. Marco Rubio and the so-called Gang of Eight. Their proposal, still in outline form, would “create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States..” Under the Bush proposal, there would be no path for those who came here illegally as adults.

It is not clear how Bush’s new plan will play politically. Opponents of the Gang of Eight proposal particularly object to its “immediate legalization” measure, which would, on its first day in effect, legalize all illegal immigrants who have not committed serious crimes. The Bush proposal also has a legalization provision, although it would require illegal immigrants to first plead guilty to the crime of entering the United States illegally. But the path to citizenship is thought to be an absolute essential for Democrats supporting the Gang of Eight plan. Their ultimate hope in immigration reform is to create millions of new Democratic voters out of those who are currently in the country illegally. That wouldn’t happen under Bush’s plan.

Beyond the details of competing plans, Bush’s new proposal could have an effect on his relationship with Rubio. The Florida Republican senator is showing signs of getting ready for a 2016 presidential run, and Bush, in interviews for the new book, is declining to rule out running himself. That means the two friends and political allies could be on a collision course. Many Republican insiders have thought it impossible that both men would run in ’16, but it’s not clear what might happen.

That Rubio now must convince Bush to swing left on immigration represents an ironic role reversal for the two Florida politicians. Just a few months ago, it was Rubio who publicly opposed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and Bush who explicitly favored the idea.

“I thought about that issue a lot and [went] back and forth on it before I signed on to my principles and I just concluded that it’s not good for the country in the long term to have millions and millions of people who are forever prohibited from becoming citizens,” Rubio told reporters on his way to a Senate vote. “That hasn’t worked out well for Europe.”

The stunning reversal by one of the Republican Party’s leading champions of immigration reform and Hispanic outreach, at least in part, comes down to a colossal political miscalculation.

When Bush and co-author Clint Bolick were writing the book during the 2012 presidential campaign, the GOP was veering far to the right. Republican nominee Mitt Romney had staked out a hardline position against illegal immigration, blasting his primary rivals as pro-amnesty and promoting “self-deportation” for undocumented workers. Bush sent the book to the printer before Christmas – weeks before a handful of Senate Republicans embraced a sweeping overhaul that, like the proposals backed by Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, would allow illegal immigrants to earn citizenship.

In other words, Bush’s party unexpectedly moved a lot faster than the book publishing world…

“He sent the book to the printer at a time when he was anticipating the direction of the debate tilting against citizenship. It is clearly contrary to what he has said before,” said Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the liberal Center for American Progress. “In hindsight, Americans have always judged severely efforts to deny citizenship to classes of people. Is this really the GOP’s path out of the political wilderness?”

Bush’s aside about the beliefs of “mainstream” conservative movement gestures toward what Frank Sharry, executive director of the America’s Voice Education Fund, claims is the primary reason for the governor’s new position.

“It was aimed at paving the way for a run for president,” Sharry said. “He decides to shoot out what he thought would be the middle of the debate, and a somewhat progressive position.”…

“It just seems to me that Jeb Bush is rusty,” said Sharry. “He is going to be an outspoken proponent [of a path to citizenship] again by the end of the week.”

The point of this supposedly less generous form of amnesty, which has been floated by others as well, is to con Republican skeptics into backing an amnesty bill by creating the pretense of compromise. Such an approach would permit GOP House members to say they were sticking it to Obama by voting for something he supposedly opposes.

There’s no compromise involved, of course, because the point of the amnesty push is to give illegal aliens legal status so they can stay here legally the rest of their lives — the nature of that status is just a detail. But the strategy had, and still has, promise. Time swallowed the fairy tale that the proposal isn’t amnesty, and acknowledged that Bush’s goal in floating the proposal is to “soften the ground for the Party to move to the center on the issue” — i.e., vote for amnesty. Likewise, the New York Times comically described it as a “middle-ground option”.

But then today Jeb blows it by recanting his position in his brand new book, saying “we wrote this last year.” In other words, “Last year I thought I had to pretend to support a less generous form of amnesty to dupe my fellow Republicans, but now that the Democrats, my allies on immigration, are in a stronger political position, I can stop pretending.”

And people are talking about him for 2016? Give me a break.

If Jeb Bush decides to convert his media tour into a presidential bid in a couple years, he won’t have to look far for a campaign staff: The well-funded education foundation he runs out his office in a Miami hotel is stacked with former political operatives, a large communications team, and a rapidly growing staff whose work stretches into 40 states…

“The chatter is he’s up to something,” said Florida Democratic operative Christian Ulvert. “He has a robust staff and has positioned himself on policy issues. You can safely say his eyes are focused on some form of higher office.”…

Another Republican, who has worked with Bush for years and requested anonymity to speculate about his plans, said that he is more serious about running than national pundits have acknowledged.

For some Republicans, Mr. Bush would be the prohibitive favorite if he chose to run for president in four years. And with a political and financial base in Florida, Mr. Bush would probably make it hard — if not impossible — for Mr. Rubio to run at the same time. (Both men heap praise on each other, suggesting that they would not run at the same time.)

But if Mr. Bush were to run and win the Republican nomination, it is possible he could face Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic nominee. That would set up a second Bush-Clinton race 21 years after his father lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

“We’re going to face a very formidable opponent on the other side if it’s Secretary Clinton,” said John Weaver, a Republican consultant who supports moderate candidates. “We have to put our ‘A team’ out there, and that begins with Jeb Bush.”

Via the Daily Caller.

“I have supported both – both a path to legalization or a path to citizenship – with the underlining principle being that there should be no incentive for people to come illegally at the expense of coming legally,” he said. “Today the only path to come to this country other, than family re-unification, is to come illegally. We need to create another category of legal immigration where there is actually a line. So if you could create that through a path to citizenship I would support that.”

“I’ve always felt that you could not deal with 11 million people and say, ‘See you later,'” he said later.