Yesterday, Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, son of President George H.W. Bush and brother of President George W. Bush, announced he would be establishing an exploratory committee to run for President himself. This doesn’t guarantee he’s going to ultimately run, but it’s usually the first step for any serious candidate.

Bush is generally considered the most pro-immigration candidate of the Republicans discussed as potential nominees in the 2016 race. He’s remembered for his remark earlier this year that illegal immigration is an “act of love” that set off a fury in the right wing. His wife is Mexican-American, he’s fluent in Spanish and he has generally been popular with Latinos in his home state of Florida.

On the other hand, immigration advocates won’t find a perfect record either. Bush wrote a policy book on immigration last year that supported legalizing the millions of unlawfully present immigrants in the US, but opposed putting them on any path to citizenship. He tried to walk this back during his book tour, but given his party’s shift again to the right on immigration since early 2013, one wonders what he thinks now.

More recently, Bush joined the chorus of right wingers condemning President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. What will be telling is whether he promises to reverse DACA and DAPA and resume deporting all of the beneficiaries. He will be pressed to make this pledge in the primaries. No doubt he will try to dodge this by making an Obamacare-esque promise of “repeal and replace” where he would push to pass immigration reform. But then he’ll be pushed to pledge to enforce first before any type of legalization program would be put in place. Would he scrap the programs before legalization happened?

Bush is going to be forced to take some pretty uncomfortable positions in the next year and a half. And his nomination is hardly a formidable conclusion. As Democratic strategist Greg Pinelo put it “If you think Jeb Bush is the front-runner for GOP nomination, you’ve never met a Republican primary voter.” Ted Cruz, a likely opponent of Bush’s in 2016, is already making the case to Republicans that Bush’s moderate positions will be a loser for the party if they take on Hillary Clinton.

But Bush, in my view, is the GOP’s only hope if they expect to win in 2016. There will likely be one to two million more Latino voters than there were in 2012 and with Hillary Clinton polling even better amongst Hispanics than President Obama did in both 2008 and 2012, it’s hard to see a Republican winning states that Obama won in the last race. Bush will need to hope that he’s the only moderate running for the nomination (right now Romney is the only other one being talked about) and that the conservatives split their votes among the other candidates. That might leave him with the most delegates and the support of party leaders and allow him to sneak out of the convention with the nomination, possibly after more than one round of votes.

He’ll also need to resist the temptation that Romney gave in to and not take the bait on immigration. Regarding the executive actions, he can say he opposes the methodology, but he must pledge to leave the actions in place until Congress passes a legalization program. He must continue to press for immigration reform and make it clear that he supports eventually getting people to the point where they can get green cards and citizenship (even if it is through regular channels and not a special path). He’s going to have to match his positive tone on immigration with actual promises that are going to upset many of the people in his party.

If he can navigate those difficult waters and actually get his party’s nomination, he’ll have a decent chance to get back to the GOP’s historic numbers with Latino voters. It’s hard to see him getting the 44% his brother did ten years ago given the abysmal record of his party on immigration, but if he can improve on Romney’s performance and run a good, positive campaign, he might be able to pull out a win, particularly if he can deliver his home state of Florida (no given considering how the demographics have changed).

Of course, we’ve had a pro-immigration President Bush before and it didn’t turn out so great for immigration advocacy. It would be nice to hear how Jeb plans on delivering what his brother could not.

 

Greg Siskind