[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he big question in Republican circles is what exactly Jeb Bush was trying to accomplish with his “act of love” speech the other day. If you missed it, Bush went out of his way to say aloud — where people could actually hear him — that it’s time to consider the possibility that good, caring, family-first people might decide to illegally cross the border.
There are two prevailing theories:
One, Bush is running for president and is testing how far Republicans have moved on illegal immigration.
Two, he’s not running for president but is testing how far, short of running, he can move Republicans on illegal immigration.
[pullquote]It’s people like Tancredo who have made illegal immigration a flashpoint in Republican politics by demonizing the immigrants themselves. Tancredo ran for president, sort of, just to make that point.[/pullquote]
I have my own theory: Bush is setting himself up as the anti-Tancredo, or at least the anti-people-like-Tancredo. And whether Bush runs or not — and I doubt that he will — it’s a worthy goal. It’s certainly an act of love for the Republican Party.
It’s not quite fair to say that Tom Tancredo has ruined the near-term GOP presidential hopes, but, if he hasn’t, it’s not for lack of trying. It is Tancredo and people like Tancredo who have made illegal immigration a flashpoint in Republican politics by demonizing the immigrants themselves. Tancredo ran for president, sort of, just to make that point.
And now, it seems, those Republicans who understand the demographic imperative — and how the party’s base is ever shrinking — know they need a new strategy. And yet, the bipartisan immigration bill that passed through the Senate is sitting, ignored and all but forgotten, in the House, where it is not expected to ever come to a vote.
That’s how you draw a line in the sand. Or maybe just a few more miles of fence along the border. And a few more million votes to the party not in favor of self-deportation.
Like gay marriage, immigration reform has become a polling winner for the Democrats — and the arguments against it have come to seem either silly or desperate.
Remember when it was immigrants who were bringing leprosy across the border? That wasn’t Tancredo. That was his buddy Lou Dobbs.
And the young women with the cantaloupe calves who are “undermining our culture and civilization?” That wasn’t Tancredo. That was his buddy Steve King railing against the Dream Act.
Then there was Tancredo who, once upon a time, infamously warned a New Hampshire audience that illegal immigrants were “coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren.” I can’t attest for everyone in the audience, but it seems that generations of Tancredos remain safe.
Certainly no one will forget the time Tancredo called Miami “a third-world country,” and Bush, then governor of Florida, called Tancredo a first-class “nut.”
It’s strange to still be talking about Tancredo after all these years, but he is, remarkably, an alleged front-runner in the Republican primary race to run for governor. Yes, in 2014. And so, in 2014, when Tancredo is a semi-serious candidate, we have Jeb Bush talking about immigration and love — and people wondering whether this eliminates him from serious consideration as a Republican candidate in 2016. That is not a coincidence.
What Bush said was that coming here illegally in order to provide for your family is “not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”
OK, it’s not exactly radical thinking these days to suggest that some immigrants who cross the border illegally have done so in order to help better the lives of their families — and that maybe it’s not something to get riled up about.
It’s not radical thinking unless you’re running for an office in which you have to make your way through a Republican primary.
And then it’s Marco Rubio whose star faded when he made the bold move to join the Gang of Eight and help push comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate.
Or you’re Rick Perry — no one’s idea of a liberal — whose presidential campaign began to falter before the “oops” moment when he said that if you believe “we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”
It isn’t that Republican leaders don’t understand the stakes. When King made his unfortunate cantaloupe remarks, House Speaker John Boehner said, “There’s no place in this debate for hateful or ignorant comments from elected officials.”
But it’s Boehner who won’t allow the Senate bill to come to the House floor where there could be a real debate. Because, you know, amnesty, and because polls show that 60 percent of Republicans would be “less likely” to vote for a candidate who favors a path to citizenship and because the usual minority in the House might well make make the cantaloupe speech sound tame.
And because people like Tom Tancredo are still around to rile people up — and to make speeches like Jeb Bush’s seem like an act of courage.