Bush: You can't have a country with open borders, you know

The chatter today has focused on George Bush’s comments about the Republican Party, and not for no good reason. However, Bush’s criticisms have a limit, and Hoda Kotb inadvertently discovered that in her pleasant chat with the former president on Today. Bush laments the “isolationist, protectionist, and to a certain extent, nativist” drift of the GOP these days, but don’t call him “pro-immigration” either, Bush warns.

“‘Pro-immigration’ basically means ‘open up the borders’,” Bush objects, “and you can’t really have a country with open borders”:

Note Kotb’s surprise at Bush’s gentle rebuke. She wanted to set up a hypothetical for a 2024 Republican that sounds an awful lot like Joe Biden, or at the very least a progressive’s idea of an acceptable Republican candidate. That candidate would be “pro-immigration, pro- a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, pro-DACA, pro-reasonable gun control, pro-education funding for public schools.” That takes an awful lot of the issues off the table for Democrats, especially public schools where unions refuse to go back to work.

Bush sees the trap and insists he’s “pro-border enforcement with compassion,” not “pro-immigration.” Kotb must have thought Bush would be a pushover for this hypothetical, but instead got taken aback by his bristling at the drift of her question. Instead of hitting it directly, Bush instead recommended a renewed focus on integrity and character rather than centrism:

“I think if the emphasis is integrity and decency and trying to work to get problems solved, I think the person has a shot,” he said.

Maybe. That was Joe Biden’s selling point, and so far … it’s not exactly working out, is it?

When it comes to character, Bush has something specific in mind:

As for the Jan. 6 insurrection perpetrated by supporters of former President Donald Trump, “it did make me sick. I felt ill. And I just couldn’t believe it,” Bush said.

“What’s really troubling is how much misinformation there is and the capacity of people to spread all kinds of untruth,” he added. “And I don’t know what we’re going to do about that.” …

“It’s not exactly my vision” for the party, Bush told NBC’s “Today” show in a rare live TV appearance. “But, you know, I’m just an old guy they put out to pasture.”

Back to his biggest priority at the moment, Bush wanted to settle the immigration policy issue during his own presidency, and got frustrated by maximalist demands from both parties. That hasn’t changed, but neither have the parameters of a successful deal. The components have been in place for fifteen years or more: effective border security and visa-system overhaul in exchange for improved processing of legal immigration, raising of some thresholds, and normalization of the long-term illegal residents already inside the US. The problem is that both sides have sold their voters on maximalist positions for so long that anyone who even suggests a combination of all these components is castigated as a sell-out.

As for Biden and his supposed centrism, let’s not forget that his opening bid didn’t even mention border security. It’s not just Republicans that need new leadership. If we have a nativist strain in one party, it’s in part because we have an unrealistic open-borders strain in the other — and neither of them will give.