Jeb Bush's immigration backtrack last week is either bad timing or strategy. (Photo by World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)

Jeb Bush’s immigration backtrack last week is either bad timing or strategy. (Photo courtesy of World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

There are a couple of explanations floating around for what’s going on with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

One explanation is that Bush didn’t reverse his support overnight for a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants — he just fell victim to the lag time in book publishing.

Another is that he’s running for president in 2016 and needs to appeal to the most conservative wing of the Republican Party.

The National Journal noted that when Bush started writing his immigration book, the tea party was talking about extreme measures to deal with undocumented immigrants. Bush’s task then was to humanize himself and appeal to the far right of the Republican Party, and amnesty for undocumented immigrants didn’t allow him to do that.

Beth Reinhard writes:

The stunning reversal by one of the Republican Party’s leading champions of immigration reform and Hispanic outreach, at least in part, comes down to a colossal political miscalculation.

When Bush and coauthor Clint Bolick were writing the book during the 2012 presidential campaign, the GOP was veering far to the right. Republican nominee Mitt Romney had staked out a hard-line position against illegal immigration, blasting his primary rivals as pro-amnesty and promoting “self-deportation” for undocumented workers. Bush sent the book to the printer before Christmas – weeks before a handful of Senate Republicans embraced a sweeping overhaul that, like the proposals backed by Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, would allow illegal immigrants to earn citizenship.

In other words, Bush’s party moved a lot faster than the book-publishing world.

“Gov. Bush has always wanted to move the party towards a bigger solution that would provide residency and a path to legal citizenship, but he knew it would require getting Republicans to the table,” Republican strategist Sally Bradshaw, Bush’s former chief of staff, said in an e-mail to National Journal. “This book and his recommendations reflect that situation and his attempt to get the GOP talking about a possible solution. The focus of this effort is legal residency and a completely redesigned immigration system.”

But this doesn’t fully explain why Bush gave only a tacit endorsement of amnesty when asked about it recently on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Since Bush has always been an ardent supporter of a path to citizenship, why would he sound so lukewarm about it now — especially during a scheduled interview in which the topic was scheduled to be immigration policy? It’s hard to believe someone as skilled and savvy as Bush was unprepared.

But maybe it wasn’t a matter of preparation. Maybe Bush was planning all of this. And that idea supports the second explanation, which is that Bush wants to run for president in 2016. Backing off from his more liberal approach to immigration reform could put him in line with the GOP’s base, whose support he’d need in the primary.

The Washington Post believes this is a sign that Bush is back in the game. According to the Post:

His appearances mark a change in approach for Bush, 60, who has operated as more of a Republican elder statesman since leaving Tallahassee in 2007 but is now clearly considering a run for the White House.

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.

Of course, the only person who hasn’t explained what happened is Bush.