Colbert says Jeb Bush White House hope 'over.' Joke or true?

Jeb Bush's 'act of love' comment on illegal immigration was instant grist for the Colbert humor mill, but the GOP conservative backlash signals that it could also be a showstopper for 2016.

Eric Gay/AP/File
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talks with the media following his address on education to the Texas Business Leadership Council in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 26, 2013. Bush's policies on education and immigration reform put him at odds with many GOP conservatives.

On “The Colbert Report” Monday night, comic Stephen Colbert pronounced Jeb Bush’s prospects for winning the White House to be zero, ended, kaput. The reason? Over the weekend the former Florida governor talked about illegal immigration during an appearance at his father’s presidential library and said that those who sneak into the US for work do so as an “act of love” to support their families.

Mr. Colbert played the Bush clip, then sat in silence for a beat. “He will be missed,” the funnyman said.

Republican primary voters know that illegal immigration is driven by something other than affection, Colbert added. We won’t go into that further; you can watch that part for yourself.

Colbert concluded this bit by saying that immigration made this country great, but only when driven by Nazis or potato famine.

“Nice try Jeb. It’s over,” he said.

Yes, Stephen Colbert is a performer playing the part of an aggrieved right-leaning host, so it’s not like this is informed political data analysis. He’s structuring his argument for maximum laughs as opposed to maximum insight.

But we bring this up because this opinion is, in fact, widely shared among certain types of Republicans. There’s an establishment core within the party that thinks Mr. Bush running for president would be a great idea, and they’re pressing hard to make it so. But grass-roots activists, tea party backers, and (some) neoconservatives have recoiled from this effort in general and Bush’s “love” remark in particular.

“I think there’s no way there will be a Bush-Clinton race in 2016,” said conservative commentator Bill Kristol on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday.

The pushback indeed centers on Bush’s immigration views. His opinions on this problem are not widely shared by conservative GOP base voters. It’s Republicans in the House who have bottled up comprehensive immigration reform, remember. In doing so, they’re just reflecting the leanings of their districts.

But that’s not all. Bush hasn’t been too involved in the struggle against Obamacare or other Obama-era policy disputes. He is in favor of Common Core educational standards, which aren’t popular in conservative localities. His surname stands for big government, according to many tea party-leaners. Medicare Part D and the Iraq War both came during his brother W.’s presidential watch.

“I’m treating the prospect of another Bush nomination as a test of whether the Republican grassroots, realistically, has any influence at all over who their party chooses,” writes right-leaning Allahpundit at Hot Air.

Bush’s potential 2016 rivals aren’t slamming him – yet. But they’re walking right up to the edge.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas said on CNN on Monday that it’s true that illegal immigrants endure “heartbreaking” conditions as they make their way through the desert along the southern border to reach the United States. However, they’re breaking the law by sneaking into the country, he added.

“Rule of law matters,” said Senator Cruz.

Asked whether ex-Governor Bush was a strong conservative, Cruz demurred.

“That’s a question for voters to say,” he said.

Bush said on Sunday that he’ll decide whether to run for the White House by the end of the year. One thing bearing on his decision will be whether he thinks he can avoid the “vortex of the mudfight” in the 2016 campaign.

Good luck with that. As Allahpundit points out, Bush will get asked about Iraq, and he’ll either have to defend W.’s choice to invade or disown his own brother. That could make the immigration debate look civil indeed.

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