Jeb Bush seems to be trying to have it both ways when it comes to how to solve the problem of undocumented workers in America.
Here's Bush: “We need to find a way, a path to legalized status for those that have come here and have languished in the shadows. There’s no way that they're going to be deported — no one’s suggesting an organized effort to do that. The cost of that would be extraordinary.”
And here's Bush: "The 40 percent of the people that have come illegally came with a legal visa and overstayed their bounds. We ought to be able to find where they are and politely ask them to leave."
That first Bush quote was from his speech to the National Automobile Dealers Association in San Francisco last Friday. The second quote was from the same speech.
Democrats joyfully sent around that second quote Tuesday, insisting it was Jeb's "self deportation" moment — a reference to Mitt Romney's insistence during the 2012 campaign that his immigration policy would start with those in the country illegally self-deporting. "Jeb Bush's immigration policy is becoming clear: self deportation with a smile," said Julieta Garibay, co-founder of United We Dream. "Despite his Spanish language skills and poetic talking points, the Bush policy looks like a warmed-up version of Mitt Romney's failed immigration agenda."
So, what the heck was Jeb talking about — and why?
First, let's go the source material, which we can do — thanks to the always-awesome C-SPAN video library. I've clipped the relevant section of Bush's speech, which ran more than an hour. The clip is about five minutes long.
Obviously, the full breadth of Bush's answer is significantly more nuanced than the single "politely ask them to leave" line. And, as WaPo's Phil Rucker, who was in the audience, noted, Bush's remarks on immigration were quite well received by the crowd. But, it is striking that within two minutes of saying the "politely" line, Bush is, seemingly, contradicting himself by insisting that there is no way all of the people in the country illegally are going to be deported. (He starts the "politely" line at around 23:50 and the we're-not-going-to-round-them-up riff at 25:40.)
The only possible explanation — at least that I can think of — is that Bush is differentiating between people who came to the country on legal visas, and then violated the law by staying once the visas ran out, vs. those who simply came to the country entirely illegally. Okay. But that's a very nuanced argument to make with what has become, politically, an absolutely black and white issue.
"Going forward, Governor Bush believes Congress needs to pass immigration reform that will put in place a system that is able to determine where individuals who overstay their visas are, pursue them and deport them," said Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell. "This, in tandem with more effective border security, should be a key part of the reform agenda." Campbell added that Bush's "politely" quote is about dealing with fixing the current system while his broader "out of the shadows" comments are about the aspirational future plan to handle the issue.
Ok. But, that point speaks to the difficulty of his promised "adult conversations" on big issues. The evening news, Twitter and the cable world aren't going to run a five-minute, unedited clip that allows him to address the full nuance of his position. (Again, assuming this was an attempt at nuance and not just a slip of the tongue/brain.) Bush, in the context of a political campaign, is not going to be allowed to get away with comments like these within a few minutes of one another. His Republican opponents, and his Democratic opponent if he gets that far, will slice and dice a speech like this and make him look as out of touch as possible. (Bush isn't even an announced candidate, and Democrats spent most of today using the "politely ask them to leave" line to drive that narrative.)
No matter what kind of campaign Jeb wants to run, he needs to understand that the modern campaign won't be bent to his will. He might be able to have more "adult conversations" than someone with less standing in the party, but he won't be immune to the gotcha nature of the process these days. Bush will either realize that fact and play more by the rules of the game or face the (likely negative) consequences.