Jeb Bush says he thinks he can sell the Republican base on his position on immigration — and he’s hitting opponents who have changed their positions on the issue. “I get a sense that a lot of people can be persuaded, to be honest with you,” the former Florida governor said. Bush has urged a respectful tone toward undocumented immigrants and has said it should be easier for those immigrants to gain legal status.
That position is anathema to much of the party’s conservative base, which opposes “amnesty” in any form — particularly the executive actions President Barack Obama has taken to allow immigrants who were brought into the United States as children to stay, as well as the undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children. Bush said he would repeal Obama’s unilateral actions. But the former Florida governor took a shot at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, though not by name, for changing his position on immigration. Walker once supported a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants, but has said he’s changed his views — and even recently called for limits on legal immigration.
“Do you want people to just bend with the wind, to mirror people’s sentiment, whoever’s in front of you?” Bush said. “‘Oh yes, I used to be for that, but now I’m for this’ — is that the way we want to elect presidents?” Bush’s perspective differs from much of the GOP field: He lives in Miami, has a Mexican-born wife and has said his family speaks Spanish at home. His brother, former President George W. Bush, previously supported immigration reform efforts. Another Florida Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, also supported efforts to ease immigrants’ ability to attain legal status — though he’s since backed off that position as Republicans have grown increasingly critical of Obama’s handling of the issue.
As Republicans shift to the right, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has run as far to the left as possible, saying undocumented immigrants should be allowed to become U.S. citizens and that she’d try to go further than Obama in using her executive authority to aid immigrants. Though a politically challenging position for Bush in his likely GOP primary campaign, a moderate immigration position would serve him well in a general election campaign as Hispanic voters are the most rapidly growing voting bloc.