In interview after interview this week, Bush, who had long dismissed the suggestion of a presidential run, spoke openly about his thinking on the matter, and his longtime political adviser, Sally Bradshaw, said Tuesday in an interview that Bush “will seriously think about it.”
“This is a guy who has big ideas and cares deeply about the future of the party and hopes to play a role in the rebirth of the party, but at what level I don’t think he knows,” Bradshaw said.
Bush, whose name last appeared on a ballot more than a decade ago, learned the difficulties Tuesday of navigating the fast-changing fault lines of the modern-day Republican Party.
Almost as soon as he unveiled his book “Immigration Wars” — which proposes giving legal status to illegal immigrants but requiring them to return home before pursuing citizenship — Bush was criticized by Republicans who questioned his motives and timing.
He has long favored giving illegal immigrants a chance to gain citizenship and has frequently voiced concern that Republicans who expressed a more restrictive view were alienating Hispanic voters. The position he lays out in his book puts him more in line with his party’s base — the kind of thing a potential presidential contender would be mindful of.
The shift stunned even Bush’s closest allies and suddenly put the former governor out of step with a growing number of Republicans, including a fellow Miamian, Sen. Marco Rubio, who have been trying to push the GOP toward a citizenship plan.
“This proposal caught me off guard, and it undercuts what we’re trying to do,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a member of a bipartisan working group on immigration.
Bush on Tuesday tried to refute the suggestion that he had flip-flopped. He and his aides argued that he wrote the book last year after the bitter GOP presidential primary, in which eventual nominee Mitt Romney voiced support for “self-deportation,” and that Bush was looking for a politically practical middle ground.
“We wrote this book last year, not this year, and we proposed a path to legalization, so anybody that had come illegally would have immediately a path to legalization,” Bush said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” But he added moments later: “If you can craft that in law, where you can have a path to citizenship where there isn’t an incentive for people to come illegally, I’m for it. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Republican strategist Ana Navarro said Bush was a victim of timing. As his book was working through the slow process of publication, Republicans moved quickly to respond to President Obama’s overwhelming victory in November among Hispanics.