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Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Immigration talk proves Jeb is ready for a fight

Published:

When it suits his purpose, Jeb Bush will go looking for a political fight. That is exactly what he did when he referred to illegal immigration as an “act of love” by families trying to find a better life in that giant melting pot known as the United States.

Talking about that “act of love” was a declaration to the most conservative elements in the Republican Party that he is ready to ruuummmmmble! It was calculated, skillful and designed to position him as a man of reasoned principle.

He knows, as does anyone with any political savvy, that the GOP is doomed for the foreseeable future in national elections if it continues to preach a vision of an intolerant America.

I mean, how’s the argument for a policy of border fences, voter purges and deportation working out so far? If I’m not mistaken, Republicans got 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 presidential election.

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So Jeb waded into the fray, and commentators immediately questioned why any Republican with presidential aspirations would begin a campaign by alienating the almighty conservative base on a core issue.

Take this reaction from everyone’s favorite wing nut, Glenn Beck. Speaking on his radio show, coming live to you from the Planet Zortron, the Beckster recently opined: “OK, so we have Hillary or Jeb. Hillary or Chris Christie. Hillary or Marco Rubio, I don’t even get up to [vote]. It’s Election Day. I don’t care. If those are your two choices, I am campaigning for a libertarian. … I’m campaigning for a third party.”

Forgetting for the moment the disconnect between campaigning for someone and then declaring you’d sleep in on Election Day, you just saw the platform of the fringe. Republicans need to get the Becks, Trumps, Palins and Cains off the stage.

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People wondering why Jeb would poke a stick in the eye of the base just got their answer. If the fringe is against you, that’s good! That increases the chances of everyone else taking you seriously. Polarization doesn’t work, and I believe a lot of people in his party feel the same but won’t say so because they’re afraid of the backlash from Beck-i-stan and other outposts.

One thing you can say about Jeb is that he isn’t afraid. I think he has been setting things up for just such a move. Even though, in remarks at a fundraising speech he gave Thursday, Bush said the remarks “generated a little more news than I anticipated.” I’m not buying it. I think it generated exactly what he anticipated.

It’s also what his party needs.

CNN reported that in that same speech, Bush said: “... the simple fact is, there is no conflict between enforcing our laws, believing in the rule of law and having some sensitivity to the immigrant experience, which is part of who we are as a country.”

That’s a reasoned, sensible position from a man who knows that works and has the track record to prove it. He won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 when he ran for re-election as Florida’s governor.

That doesn’t mean everyone agreed with the way he ran things. There was legitimate debate about his approach to education and school vouchers. He could be gruff and dismissive. Even with that, he is still statesmanlike compared with a lot of his potential challengers.

It is a risk in taking an opposition position on an issue that makes the base’s blood boil, but it’s a fight any Republican candidate with the potential to win in 2016 has to wage. Jeb just sounded the call to reason. We’ll see if anyone could hear it amid all the screeching.

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