For Bush to make some grand gesture of disapproval toward the extremists in his own party, before the campaign in Iowa has even begun, wouldn’t simply be perilous; it would be suicide. You have to navigate your way through activist-dominated primaries before you can speak directly to the broad middle of the country, as Clinton did. (Or else you can be like John McCain in 2000, who almost certainly would have been elected president except for the small technicality of having been emphatically denied his party’s nomination.)…

If I were Bush or Chris Christie or some other moderate Republican not named Romney (because, you know, that’s just not going to happen), that’s the larger lesson I’d take from Sister Souljah — not that I needed to have the kind of big, kick-in-the-teeth moment the pundits always want to see, but that I needed to have governing ideas that demonstrated my independence, and that I needed to politely and persistently make the case for them. That, and not some cheap rhetorical riff, is what made the Sister Souljah thing stick.

Bush isn’t there yet. Not only were his comments last week on immigration not especially incendiary, they weren’t especially coherent, either. He hinted at broader compassion for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for years, but his compassionate idea seemed to be that we would find all these people and ask them nicely to leave. Of course we’ll go! All you had to do was say please!