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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
Columnists

Henderson: A shaky start for Jeb! 2016

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The Jeb Bush we came to know as Florida’s two-term governor could be brusque and dismissive, but he was also supremely confident and the unquestioned champion of his own ideas. As a leader, he helped reshape the state in his own conservative vision, and it is widely assumed now he would like to do the same for the country.

Given all that, it isn’t surprising he has been all over your television set recently. That’s a script politicians follow when they’re contemplating a run for the White House. So there he was on “Morning Joe.” CNN had him on for a chat. The big political writers have picked up the scent.

In pundit land it is assumed we just saw the launch of “Jeb! 2016.”

It was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, though, to see this unwavering man appear to reverse one of his core positions — that of immigration.

He has long favored giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, but he does a 180-degree turn in a book he just co-authored called “Immigration Wars.”

“It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship,” Bush wrote. “To do otherwise would signal once again that people who circumvent the system can still obtain the full benefits of American citizenship.”

That sent heads spinning.

Salon.com reported this tweet from Ana Navarro, who likes Bush and led John McCain’s Hispanic outreach during his presidential campaign: “Jeb’s immigration book roll-out reminds me of a song: ‘How could something so right, go so wrong?’ I’m confident Jeb will clarify.”

He has, sort of, telling “Morning Joe” the book was written last year and he still favors a path to citizenship but doesn’t know how to make it happen.

Well, that’s reassuring.

It’s also really weird.

First, giving a nod to hard-liners on immigration is an interesting gambit, considering how badly the GOP lost the Hispanic vote in 2012. Unless they repair that bridge, Republicans will keep losing elections.

Second, Bush was one of the first major GOP voices last year during the primaries to say the party had swerved so far to the right it had lost its way.

He was right. When GOP candidates started a mad sprint to see which one could take the most extreme position, the race was over, and Bush was positioned to be the party’s voice of reason.

He still is.

So let’s not get too crazy about this book excerpt. He has 3½ years to “clarify” his position if he officially decides to run. If he does, a stumble like this will be quickly forgotten.

Republicans saw their shrillest voices become the sound bites of 2012. I mean, who can forget the ravings of Herman Cain, who said we ought to build a 20-foot-high electrified fence with an alligator moat.

“Jeb! 2016” is off to a shaky start, but he still is in the best position to lead the party back toward the mainstream — unless he writes more books, of course.


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