Jeb Bush’s ‘act of love’ might be political suicide

     Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

    Jeb Bush, the Republican establishment’s great white hope, said Sunday that he’ll decide whether to run for president by the end of the year.

    But he also said stuff that could arguably nix his nomination prospects by the end of this week.

    He spoke kindly about illegal immigrants. Oh dear. In today’s nativist right-wing Republican party, that’s like soaking yourself with gas and flicking a match.

    Appearing at a 25th anniversary bash of his dad’s presidential tenure, here’s what Jeb said (I’ve bold-faced key lines):

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    I’m going to say this and it will be on tape, and so be it. The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their family’s dad who loves their children was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table, and they wanted to make sure their family was intact. And they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s kind of – it’s a, it’s an act of love.

    It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that should be, there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t be – it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families. And the idea that we’re not going to fix this with comprehensive reform ends up trapping these people, when they could make a great contribution for their own their families, but also for us. So I think we need to get beyond the harsh political rhetoric to a better place….

    We need to elect candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader, and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making a point….Can a candidate run with a hopeful, optimistic message…and not get back into the vortex of a mud fight?

    No, no, no. C’mon, Jeb. You can’t possibly win the Republican nomination by talking so humanely about illegal immigrants. A border crossing is “an act of love” and “an act of commitment” to one’s family? Conservatives who engage in “harsh political rhetoric” and who are drawn to “the vortex of a mud fight” should just knock it off? Try out those lines in a Republican primary debate, and you’ll get booed by the red-meat carnivores.

    Such was Rick Perry’s debate fate in 2011, when he tried to defend a Texas program that schools the kids of illegal immigrants. He told the boobirds: “If you saw that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought here by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.” Whereupon the boobirds doubled down. Hard to see how Bush could avoid that vortex.

    In fact, we gotta wonder what Bush is up to. Maybe he really doesn’t want to run in ’16, and he figures that fatally inflaming the rabid right will ensure that he sits it out. Or maybe he really does want to run, and has deluded himself into believing that he can tame the right and move the GOP to the middle.

    The party establishment, worried about Chris Christie, is pining intensely for Bush. Former two-term swing state governor, reputedly the brainest member of his family, beneficiary of the family fundraising network, a purportedly worthy match for Hillary Clinton…he looks good on paper. But he’s been out of the game so long – his last race was in Florida 10 years ago – that it’s debatable whether he’s sufficiently hip to how much the game has changed. Heck, we’re well into the digital era, but he still thought that his Sunday remarks were being recorded “on tape.”

    And his benign remarks about illegal immigrants…wow. In the GOP, that kind of compassion is so 14 years ago.

    That’s when brother George ran for president, championed immigration reform, and spoke the language of inclusion. Of course, we all know what happened. Bush’s path-to-citizenship bill crashed in Congress, circa ’06, courtesy of a right-wing uprising. The hostile vibes in The Base have only gotten worse, and it is now de rigueur for any aspiring Republican pol to knuckle under – as evidenced most recently by Mitt “self-deporation” Romney.

    Sure enough, conservatives have gone bonkers over Bush’s “act of love” line. A blogger at, declares: “Logic like this is why RINOs should never get elected.” Yup, Bush is denounced as a Republican In Name Only, which says more about The Base than it says about Bush. The guy hails from a family with longstanding Republican credentials – dating back to at least 1947, when Bush’s grandfather was a Republican finance chairman – but such lineage means squat if you violate today’s Rightthink.

    Elsewhere, Jim Geraghty at National Review Online says Bush is “either not in touch with the mood of the conservative grassroots, or he’s willfully at odds with the conservative grassroots.” He says that “Jeb’s going to have to be very careful” if he continues to speak kindly about illegal immigrations. He says that Bush is engaging in “demonization” of the conservative grassroots, even though “it’s far from a nutty perspective to think, and contend, that everybody who entered the country illegally should be deported.”

    Geraghty asks, “Hey, Jeb, how about an ‘act of love’ for the grassroots?'” But that kind of groveling has distanced the GOP from the American mainstream, and helped ensure five popular vote defeats in the last six presidential elections. Rest assured, Jeb doesn’t want to be the guy who makes it six for seven. He’d rather stay idle than grovel.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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