The Romneyworld Attack on Jeb Bush

by Reihan Salam

Benjy Sarlin reports that “an unnamed advisor to Mitt Romney” has attacked Jeb Bush via the Miami Herald:

“Where the hell was this Jeb Bush during the campaign?” the advisor said. “He spent all this time criticizing Romney and it turns out he has basically the same position. So he wants people to go back to their country and apply for citizenship? Well, that’s self deportation. We got creamed for talking about that. And now Jeb is saying the same thing.”

As Sarlin goes on to explain, this doesn’t make much sense. Bush does want people to go back to their country if they intend to apply for citizenship, i.e., to eventually become full participants in U.S. political life, yet he also offers two other ways forward for unauthorized immigrants: (a) those who arrived as minor children will have a path to citizenship provided they meet certain basic criteria, an approach that is essentially identical to the DREAM Act; and (b) those who arrived as adults who choose not to go back to their country and apply for citizenship can become permanent non-citizen residents. That is, they will become lawful participants in American economic life, a change that will allow them to acquire driver’s licenses, build assets, and do much else that aspiring immigrants who went through formal channels yet failed to secure lawful permanent resident status will not have the opportunity to do. 

Frank Sharry, a leading immigration advocate who has praised Jeb Bush in the past, is clearly disappointed:

“If he stays with this new, ‘let them be workers but not citizens’ stance, it will be a political blunder of huge proportions,” Frank Sharry, the executive director of pro-reform America’s Voice, said in a written statement. “At a time when voters are looking for steady, principled leaders and Republicans are supporting citizenship in greater numbers, this should be Jeb Bush’s moment. Yet his disturbing flip-flop on immigration citizenship and tack to the right ahead of a potential presidential primary suggests that he’s misread the moment.”

What I find striking is how quickly the conversation has changed. Essentially, Bush is taking measures that have been hotly debated for years around driver’s licenses, etc., completely off the table, yet for Sharry and his allies, including the president, this is not enough. Instead, it is a “regressive” step. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.