Can a Pro-Immigrant Candidate Survive the GOP Primaries?

By Miguel Perez

April 8, 2014 6 min read

We know where the Democrats would stand. If they were to run for president, both Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton would support comprehensive immigration reform. But with the Republicans, it's a question of whether any of them would have the courage to do it, and whether a pro-immigrant candidate could survive the GOP primaries.

In recent history, once they enter the primaries, even pro-immigrant Republicans have been forced to run to the right. They have to act like xenophobes in order to win the GOP nomination. Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney are among the most prominent immigration flip-floppers.

They knew they needed Latino voters once they got to the general election, but while appealing to their "conservative base" in the primaries, they alienated Latinos — and the rest is history. President Barack Obama was handed the Latino vote on a silver platter — twice.

And so, here comes 2016! Can a pro-immigrant candidate survive the GOP primaries? Would he or she be forced to flip-flop, become an immigrant basher and then lose the general election?

All those questions could soon be answered by the potential presidential candidacy of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who raised a lot of eyebrows Sunday when he said that instead of a felony, illegally coming to this country could be considered "an act of love."

I know. To right-wing extremists, this must have felt like a kick in the stomach. Many have been puking on social media.

"Jeb is a DemoRAT in a GOP suit ... no different from other RINOs (Republicans in Name Only)," one of them posted on the Washington Post webpage that carried the story on Bush's comments. "He sounds like Ted Kennedy," another person added. "Electing another Illegal Alien-Loving Bush would be an act of INSANITY!" posted another reader.

One of them noted that while "trolling for votes," Bush "can't get Americans, so he'll take illegals." He explained that "illegal aliens have invaded America by the millions and knowingly broken our laws. That's not love. That's undeclared war. Jeb wants to surrender. Collaborator is the lowest form of American. It's not politics; it's treason."

These are the kind of comments conservative extremists were making all over cyberspace, not only expressing their disdain for Bush but their hatred of immigrants.

"Mexicans did not come here out of love. They came here out of GREED," one of the readers noted. Yet another one said Bush would not be elected president "as long as he supports amnesty for illegals who live here amongst us ... take our jobs, work for less money, lower our standards of living, refuse to learn English, think they are entitled, are disrespectful to our culture ... "

People are spewing xenophobia! And it's all because Bush went on a Fox News program and showed compassion for "someone who comes to our country because they couldn't come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn't have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family."

"Yes, they broke the law," Bush added, "but it's 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 that 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."

Well, even his comments got people riled up.

And yet — at least for now — those comments set Bush apart from the other potential GOP presidential candidates, all of whom have been behaving like tea party puppets — unwilling to tolerate any form on "amnesty" and yet ready to bash immigrants on demand.

As if anticipating the reaction that his comments would get from the extreme right of his party, during the Fox interview, Bush also noted, "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."

As if telling Republicans that they should learn from their defeats, Bush added, "Campaigns ought to be about listening and learning and getting better ... I'm not being critical of my party, but campaigns themselves are reflective of this new America."

Whoa! This is the kind of Republican candidate who could sway many Latinos who feel they have been taken for granted by the Democrats.

But imagine what would happen once the GOP presidential contenders get into those lively TV primary debates and begin throwing red meat at conservative audiences. Remember how they jumped on Texas Gov. Rick Perry for suggesting that undocumented college students should be allowed to pay in-state tuition?

Almost a decade has passed since Republicans won a presidential election. And coincidentally, the last one was won by another Bush who sold himself as a "compassionate conservative."

People say his name is a detriment. Even his mother says, "We've had too many Bushes" in the White House.

But that problem would be nullified if he runs against "another" Clinton. I can just hear Republicans arguing: "What could be worse than another Bush? How about the same Clintons?"

Bush says illegal immigration is "a different kind of crime," and if he can survive the GOP primaries making that argument, he can become a different kind of Republican candidate — the only kind who could win enough Latino votes to become our next president.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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