Jeb Bush: Is the world ready for a third Bush in the White House?

Jeb Bush hit the TV talk shows Sunday, mainly to promote his book on immigration and explain his apparent shift on any 'path to citizenship.' But the question of 2016 inevitably came up, and the former Florida governor tried to deflect any notion that he might run.

Mario Anzuoni/REUTERS
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs his autograph while promoting his book, 'Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution,' at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., March 8, 2013.

Is the world ready for a third President Bush, the possibility of barely more than a generation that would include 20 years of Bushes as the nation’s chief executive, commander-in-chief, leader of the free world?

Try as he might, former Florida governor could not avoid that question as he made the rounds of the TV news shows Sunday morning.

"I've decided to defer any consideration of it until the proper time to make those kinds of considerations," Mr. Bush demurred on CNN's "State of the Union."

"My big decision was to force myself not to think about it until it's time, the proper time to think about it, which is out into the future," Bush said on CBS’s "Face the Nation." "We just had an election, four years is a long way from now, and I think it’s better to stay focused on the things that I'm doing now."

What he’s focusing on now – and the official reason for his sitting down for five interviews – is promoting his new book. Titled “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution,” it was coauthored by Clint Bolick, described by the Washington Post as “an activist conservative lawyer.” 

Everybody knows the GOP lost a huge majority of the Hispanic vote last year. Today, Republicans are scrambling to repair relations with that growing portion of the electorate – moving rapidly away from Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” answer to illegal immigration toward a more benign if not humane attitude, including talk by some of a “path to citizenship.”

Given his background, Jeb Bush would seem to be right in line with that.

As a teenager on a student exchange program, he taught English as a second language in Mexico. A year after he graduated from the University of Texas (Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Latin American studies), he married Columba Garnica Gallo, who had been born in Mexico and whose father had been a migrant worker.

“He’s practically Cuban, just taller,” Sen. Marco Rubio once told the Miami Herald. “He speaks Spanish better than most of us.”

The problem for Bush today is, he seems in his book to have taken a harder line on immigration than he has in the past, one that can be sound-bitten to seem tougher than the more moderate line many Republicans are promoting.

“A grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage,” he writes.

As described in the Washington Post review of the book, he wants the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the US to plead guilty and pay a fine in return for a chance at legal residency – but not citizenship.

“Anyone who does not come forward under this process will be subject to automatic deportation, unless they choose to return voluntarily to their native countries,” Bush writes.

Since the book came out, and in his TV talkfest Sunday, Bush tried to clarify his position.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” he explained that he wrote the book last year (during the presidential race) “at a time when the tenor of the debate on immigration was dramatically different than it is today.” That is, a time when most of the GOP hopefuls (Newt Gingrich was a notable exception) were scrambling to the right on illegal immigrants.

"I haven't changed,” he said. “The book was written to try to create a blueprint for conservatives that were reluctant to embrace comprehensive reform, to give them perhaps a set of views that they could embrace. I support a path to legalization or citizenship so long as the path for people that have been waiting patiently is easier and costs less."

If Jeb Bush has any serious political speed bump ahead of him, it’s likely to be – not the latest kerfuffle over his attitude on immigration – but the record of his older brother’s two presidential terms: launching a long, costly, and controversial war in Iraq, tax cuts that benefitted the wealthy, widened income inequality, and helped lead to record deficits.

On "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace put the obvious question delicately: “Do you think there would be any Bush baggage? Do you think that would be a problem?”

"I love my brother and I'm proud of his accomplishments and I love my dad and I'm proud to be a Bush," he replied. "If I run for president, it is not because of something in my DNA that compels me to do it. It would be the right thing to do for my family, that the conditions are right and I have something to offer. And if I don't run, I have a blessed life."

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