SAN DIEGO — And to think Jeb Bush is supposed to be the smart brother.
Yet the former Florida governor and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate didn’t sound very smart during the media rounds for his new book on immigration.
It’s not all his fault. The liberal media has painted a target on his chest, and they’re determined to play “gotcha.”
Here’s why: There have been two presidents named Bush, and Jeb is in a strong position to make it three.
And Hispanics could be key to his chances. In his gubernatorial elections in Florida in 1998 and 2004, Bush earned more than 60 percent of the Hispanic vote. He speaks fluent Spanish, and he has, for more than 35 years, been married to Mexican-born Columba Garnica Gallo de Bush. He has also criticized Republicans for their harsh tone on immigration, saying that they need to “stop acting stupid” with Hispanic voters.
A lot of those voters are fond of Jeb, which is why Democrats have to throw mud on him every chance they get. Still, Bush can’t afford to make rookie mistakes. He made at least three of them in the opening hours of his publicity tour for “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution,” which he co-wrote with constitutional lawyer Clint Bolick.
Mistake No. 1: Bush either didn’t anticipate or at least didn’t prepare for the fact that he’d be a target for some left-leaning members of the media (see above). Either he is incredibly naive or he hasn’t paid attention to how the media treat most Republicans on the immigration issue. He didn’t think that they were there to help him sell books, did he?
Mistake No. 2: Bush let himself get cornered in an interview with Matt Lauer, co-host of NBC’s “Today” show.
Lauer apparently doesn’t understand how complicated the immigration debate can be. He began with a cut-and-dried assumption that, while Bush would give the undocumented legal status, he opposes a path to citizenship.
It’s in the book.
Here: “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.” And here: There should be “two penalties for illegal entry: fines and/or community service, and ineligibility for citizenship.”
However, this is what Lauer missed. Bush and Bolick also wrote that the undocumented could have such a pathway if they took the initiative and earned it like anyone else would.
“Illegal immigrants who do wish to become citizens should have the choice of returning to their native countries and applying through normal immigration processes,” they wrote.
This is a path to citizenship. It’s one that leads out of the country, before circling back around to re-enter “under normal immigration processes.” But it’s a path nonetheless.
Personally, I feel the pathway should be long and grueling because U.S. citizenship shouldn’t come cheap. Yet immigrants shouldn’t have to leave the United States to complete the journey.
By the way, there are those in Congress, from both parties, who would flat-out shut the door and ban illegal immigrants from ever being eligible for citizenship under any circumstances, even if they did leave the country.
But when Lauer tried to shove his guest into a box, Bush bought into the question when he should have stopped right there and made his position clear.
What Bush should have said, and what he said in later interviews, is that he would support a path to citizenship as long as it isn’t a cakewalk. Actions have consequences, and one consequence of entering the United States illegally is that you should have to exert some effort to make it right.
Mistake No. 3: Bush seemed to forget that the immigration debate is where nuance goes to die.
I’ve written about immigration for nearly 25 years, and I understand the nuances. But on an issue as emotional as this one, few Americans are interested in the gray; most seem to only be able to grasp policies expressed in black and white.
Bush’s views on giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship aren’t black and white. They’re gray. No wonder he had a tough time getting them across.
And yet, this is what effective leaders are supposed to do: communicate with clarity. So if Bush is really planning to make a bid for the presidency, he had better straighten out his position on a path to citizenship – or he’ll never find a path to the White House.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at email@example.com.