Immigration reform 'love': Did Jeb Bush comment change shape of 2016 race?

Jeb Bush's defense of immigration reform is already changing the race, whether or not he opts to try a Bush three-peat in 2016. He's flushed a highly divisive issue out into the open.

Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal/AP
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, here speaking at an education panel discussion at Advanced Technologies Academy in Las Vegas on March 27, said on Sunday that he will announce a decision whether or not to run for the presidency by the end of the year.

Jeb Bush is going to run for president in 2016, unless he decides that he won’t. Or is it the other way around – he’s out, but reserves the right to jump in? In any case that’s the (hazy) bottom line from the ex-Florida governor’s appearance on Sunday at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. At the talk, Mr. Bush did not announce a candidacy but said he’ll decide whether or not to try for the presidency by the end of this year.

“It turns out that not running has generated way more interest than running,” he said, to laughter from the crowd assembled to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his father George H.W. Bush’s administration. “I’m not that smart, it just kind of happened that way.”

Bush said his decision would depend upon two “simple things”: whether he could run a campaign with an optimistic message and not get sucked into the “vortex of the mud fight” and whether it’s OK for his family.

“All the tactics of a campaign aren’t nearly as relevant because I don’t think you can predict the context of a campaign this far out,” said Bush, the son of one president and brother of another.

However, for all his studied indecision as to whether he’ll throw his heritage in the ring and try for a Bush three-peat, Bush did do something which could well reverberate throughout the GOP primary season. He repeated that he’s a strong defender of the nationalized Common Core education standards, and that he supports immigration reform over the objections of the conservative wing of the party.

“We need to elect candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader, and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making a point,” said Bush to a Fox News interviewer on stage at his dad’s presidential library. “Campaigns ought to be about listening and learning and getting better. I do think we’ve lost our way.”

What Bush is doing here is preemptively discussing his weaknesses within the GOP, write Chuck Todd and the rest of the NBC “First Read” gang this morning.

Both issues are so controversial among Republicans that, if he runs, some of his competitors will surely try to use his stances against him.

“These issues could be two Achilles' heels for him in a competitive Republican primary, in part because they are such raw, emotional issues,” write Mr. Todd and his compatriots.

In particular, immigration reform has already tied the party’s elected members in knots, as conservatives who oppose any sort of “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants fight with establishment Republicans who believe that the GOP must deal with the reality of the problem and the growing importance of the Hispanic vote.

So in raising immigration again – and repeating his assertion that immigrants sneak into the country as an “act of love” to help provide for their families – Bush may have ensured that the party will settle this internal dispute once and for all in the 2016 race, whether he runs or not.

That’s because Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida pretty much shares Bush’s view on this issue, and has fought to pass some sort of immigration reform in Congress. He’s gotten battered by the right in the process.

Senator Rubio is likely to run, especially if Bush does not. And Bush has now laid down a marker on immigration for both of them.

Bush’s statements on the issue “will answer the question about his own electability in a contest that tests the most conservative credentials of its contenders. Or it will provide some running room for people closer to his own views on immigration," according to Bloomberg’s Mark Silva.

Thus Bush on Sunday may have issued a direct challenge to the tea party wing of the Republicans: Let’s see what you’ve got. Their response, and how that plays out in polls over the coming months, could well be a major influence on whether he ends up running or not.

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