Jeb Bush has promised us a presidential campaign premised on the idea that he can become the GOP nominee by speaking directly to the general election electorate — which is to say, by delivering a stiff dose of realism to GOP primary voters, rather than pandering to them. Exhibit A: Immigration, where Bush has argued, outrageously, that we aren’t going to deport 11 million people, so it’s time to embrace some form of legalization as the only answer.

Now Bush appears to be ratcheting up the attacks on fellow Republicans — presumably Marco Rubio and Scott Walker — over the issue. Post reporter Ed O’Keefe got access to a private conference call between Bush and Alabama Republicans, in which he seemed to accuse his rivals of “bending with the wind” on immigration:

He said that he believes President Obama’s executive actions to change immigration laws will be eventually ruled unconstitutional by federal courts. He reiterated that he backs “a path to earned legal status, not citizenship, but earned legal status. Where people get a provisional work permit, where they pay taxes, they pay a fine, they learn English, they work, they don’t receive federal government assistance and they — over extended period of time — they earn legal status.”
Bush said he welcomed the opportunity to explain his views on both subjects “because I find it interesting that people who share that view — rather than stick with the view and try to persuade people about it — in many cases have actually abandoned their views. I think the next president is going to have tougher times dealing with these issues than dealing with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. If we’re going to bend with the wind, then it’ll be hard to imagine how we solve our problems.”

As O’Keefe notes, that appears to be a reference to Walker and Rubio, both of whom have moved right on immigration after supporting a path to legalization as part of some form of comprehensive immigration reform. The suggestion that immigration may be a tougher thing to handle than Putin is also a nice touch.

It’s good that Bush is throwing down the gauntlet in claiming that GOP candidates should show courage in trying to persuade hostile GOP voters that legalization is the only solution. But it remains to be see how far he’ll go publicly. What’s more, Bush does not deserve a pass here — he, too, has equivocated on legalization.

While it’s true that Bush has taken a grave political risk by suggesting undocumented immigrants might have something positive to contribute to American society, he has also retreated to a safer position, hinting he agrees we must secure the border before legalization. (Immigration advocates see this as tantamount to opposing legalization, since Republicans could easily continue to say in perpetuity that the border still isn’t quite secure enough.)

But this morning it was reported that the flow of illegal immigration is at its lowest point in a very long time. Of course, among many GOP primary voters, it is a given that President Obama has thrown open the border to the hordes. One way Bush could really deliver a dose of realism on this issue — or meaningfully show more courage than his rivals — is to acknowledge the real state of border security today. In light of his comments about Walker and Rubio, he should also be pressed to clarify whether he really thinks some elusive state of absolute border security must be achieved — and if so, how that might be defined — before any legalization scheme can be put in place. If not, he should forthrightly clarify that he agrees we need a comprehensive solution that strives for both.

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* ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION PLUMMETS, BUT WILL ANYONE CARE? Don’t miss Jerry Markon’s great piece of reporting on what has happened to the flow of illegal immigration:

As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades. The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million, according to demographers at the Pew Research Center.

Apprehensions at the border are down, too. Some experts think changes in Latin America, at least as much as increased security, explain the drop. Either way, this should shift a debate in which Republicans insist on “securing the border” as a condition for reform. But it won’t.

* AMERICA BRACES FOR EXPIRATION OF BULK SURVEILLANCE: The New York Times reports that administration officials are redoubling pressure on the Senate to pass the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which would rein in bulk surveillance but retain some authority. The alternative is the key Patriot Act provision expires entirely, which means losing this:

The same authority that has been used to collect the bulk telephone data allows national security investigators to obtain court orders for records — from hotels and banks, for instance — that pertain to an individual. Also scheduled to expire on Sunday is the government’s ability to obtain a multiuse order known as a roving wiretap to track a terrorist or spy known to be switching telephones frequently to avoid detection.

With Republicans talking up the ISIS threat, full expiration seems unlikely. Which would seem to leave Mitch McConnell (who favors extending surveillance) one option: Let the Freedom Act pass.

 * DO AMERICANS SUPPORT FREE TRADE? Supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are heavily promoting this new Reuters/Ipsos poll, but note the fine print:

56 percent of Americans support new trade deals to promote the sale of U.S. goods overseas, with just 13 percent opposed. Thirty-one percent were undecided. Respondents were not specifically asked about fast-track legislation or the TPP but instead were broadly asked about their views on international agreements.

But polling on “free trade” may not tell us much about opinion on the TPP, which also contains major provisions on patent protection and investor-state dispute settlements that could be widely seen as a giveaway to major corporations, once details are known.

* REPUBLICANS STILL KNOW IRAQ WAR WAS GLORIOUS AND WONDERFUL: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that a majority of Americans say going to war with Iraq was the wrong thing to do by 59-32. Independents agree by 65-26. But Republicans see things differently: They say by 62-28 that it was the right thing to do.

The GOP presidential hopefuls may thus continue to struggle with this question — they know what GOP voters want to hear, but also know what verdict the whole country has now reached.

* NO FRONTRUNNER IN GOP PRESIDENTIAL FIELD: The new Quinnipiac poll also finds that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker are each supported by 10 percent of Republican voters nationally. But that’s not all: Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee also get 10 percent each!

It’s far too early for these numbers to mean much. But they hint at the possibility that there may not be a GOP frontrunner for a good long time.

* HILLARY FAR AHEAD OF DEM AND GOP RIVALS: Meanwhile, the Quinnipiac poll also finds Hillary Clinton leading Bush by 47-37; Walker by 46-38; and Rubio by 45-41. (Rubio-mentum!!!) Among Democrats she has 57 percent, to 15 percent for Bernie Sanders and one percent for Martin O’Malley — little changed since last month.

However, while Americans see Clinton as a strong leader by 60-37, she has problems on oher fronts: They say Clinton is not honest and trustworthy by 53-39, and are divided on whether she cares about people’s problems by 48-47.

* AND FEEL THE PATAKI-MENTUM!!! Here’s former New York Governor George Pataki’s presidential announcement video. The New York Times observes:

He is a supporter of abortion rights and pushed as governor for anti-discrimination rules protecting gays and lesbians. He routinely invokes Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican environmentalist and crusader against corporate power, as a political hero….he will be clearly the closest to the political center among the announced candidates…

The Rudy Giuliani of 2016 — without the 9/11 magic carpet.