Political Animal


March 05, 2013 9:30 AM Jeb Chases the Whirlwind

By Ed Kilgore

A lot of folk have wondered exactly why former Florida governor Jeb Bush put out a new book on immigration policy that backtracks on his own (and his presidential brother’s) support for a “path to citizenship” just as his party was inching back towards W.’s position under the threat of demographic immolation. Was he trying to outflank fellow Floridian Marco Rubio to the right in a potential 2016 run? Did he figure his own street cred with Latinos gave him license to make a pitch for the nativist vote?

Turns out it was all a miscalculation: a combination of the lag-time between the writing and publishing of a dead-tree book, and the wild gyrations of the GOP, which was hurtling to the Right on immigration and many other issues when Jeb laid his plans.

National Journal’s Beth Reinhard explains:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s new book was aimed at nudging a reluctant Republican Party toward reforms that would allow illegal immigrants to live and work without fear of deportation.
But by recommending only legal residency and backing off his past support for citizenship, Bush is throwing cold water over a fledgling deal in the Senate, denting his own reputation as a bold policymaker and stoking speculation that he will run for president in 2016.
None of those things were supposed to happen.
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 coauthor 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 hard-line 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.

Now Jeb is not only mispositioned on the immigration issue, but is committed to a book tour to draw attention to that fact, and will also have to make a defining appearance at CPAC in a couple of weeks. Does he double down and play to the nativist “base” by denouncing “amnesty?” Or does he admit he got caught in mid-flip-flop and is willing to move with the herd back towards his original immigration position?

As Dave Weigel notes this morning, the whole thing is fine advertising for e-books, which give the wily politician much shorter publication schedules and better protection against getting wind directions dead wrong.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Speed on March 05, 2013 9:36 AM:

    Remember, Jeb is the "smart one" in the Bush crime family.

  • Lifelong Dem on March 05, 2013 9:37 AM:

    I thought Jeb was supposed to be the "smart" one.

  • DRF on March 05, 2013 10:00 AM:

    This is also a reminder--as if we really needed one--of the dishonesty of professional politicians like Bush, as well as aspiring careerists like Ted Cruz. They will change positions on important issues if they believe it will advance their personal ambitions.

    Bush's reversal of a position with which he has been closely identified for years is not unlike Romney's reversal with respect to health care reform.

  • Josef K on March 05, 2013 10:04 AM:

    The country could suffer worse fates than the remnants of the Bush family immolating themselves.

    Then again, what does this leave the GOP with in terms of "rising stars" or "policy leaders"? Rubio? Ryan?

    The saddest bit is that there's still a sliver the electorate that will continue to vote for this collection of clods. Hardly seems fair to the rest of us, does it?

  • Peter C on March 05, 2013 10:26 AM:

    I'm sure that Jebby's ma would think that permanent guest-worker status would count as "working very well for them".

    Ugh! Would ANYONE actually vote for someone from this family EVER again???

  • jonh on March 05, 2013 10:37 AM:

    Maybe this can give us a song lyric:

    You do need a weatherman to know which way the wind will be blowing in the future.

  • schtick on March 05, 2013 10:44 AM:

    Wonder who he will tap for his VP. Think Cheney will be dead by then?

  • T-Rex on March 05, 2013 11:11 AM:

    schtick: Nah. God doesn't want him and Hell won't have him.

  • bdop4 on March 05, 2013 11:11 AM:

    "When Bush and coauthor Clint Bolick were writing the book during the 2012 presidential campaign, the GOP was veering far to the right."

    That's what happens when you take your cues from fickle political winds and not your core beliefs (whatever they may be with that guy). It would be nice if politician's spent a little more time on self-reflection and less time trying to impersonate what they think their constituents will like to see.

  • T2 on March 05, 2013 12:46 PM:

    A Bush is a Bush is a Bush.

  • Raoul on March 05, 2013 4:04 PM:

    Would they object to me bringing a nice bag of freshly popped popcorn to one Jeb's book tour events?