Could Jeb Bush’s view of immigration ruin a presidential bid?

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush may have either given Republicans a heart or utterly destroyed his White House chances Sunday when he took the most compassionate stance…
Could Jeb Bush’s view of immigration ruin a presidential bid?

This Jan. 29, 2014 photo, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gestures as he speaks at the Inside ITFs Conference at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Fla. Bush says he’s all the speculation about whether he’ll run for president in 2016 is actually getting him more attention than if he had already entered the race. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush may have either given Republicans a heart or utterly destroyed his White House chances Sunday when he took the most compassionate stance on immigration of any possible GOP candidate.

Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, said that immigrants who enter the country illegally should not be punished and that what they do is “not a felony — it’s an act of love.”

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He was drawing a distinction between people who cross the border for family reasons and those who overstay their visas or enter the country without having any familial ties in the U.S.

Bush, who is still weighing whether he will seek the Republican nomination, made his remarks at an event at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his father’s presidency.

Such conciliatory comments on immigration are out of step with traditional Republican orthodoxy calling for tough sanctions, and it raises the question of whether Jeb Bush is too much of a humanitarian on immigration issues to be president, certainly to win his party’s nomination.

As North Carolina businesswoman Sallie Taggart, who sympathizes with the need for immigration reform, put it: “I guess there’s no chance he will make it through the primary process now.”

But Bush, whose wife is a Mexican national and a naturalized U.S. citizen, has always marched to a different beat than most Republicans – and often been successful politically.

“… the way I look at this — and I’m going to say this, and it’ll be on tape and so be it: The way I look at this is 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.

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Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio

Some pundits look at Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as a possible Latino formula for the GOP in the 2016 presidential elections. (AP Photo/AmeriQuest corp)

“Yes, they broke the law, 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.”

Bush’s humanitarian comments were reminiscent of those made by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, while a candidate for the 2012 GOP nomination.

“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry told a Florida debate.

His comments were roundly disparaged by fellow Republicans, and Perry soon withdrew from the race.

But Bush might not be alone in the GOP. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a hardline Republican on just about all issues except the immigration debate, also takes a softer stance on the issue. In his 2012 memoir, the son of Cuban immigrants said: “If my kids went to sleep hungry every night and my country didn’t give me an opportunity to feed them, there isn’t a law, no matter how restrictive, that would prevent me from coming here.”

This view might be career suicide in the eyes of GOP hardliners, but it might be the relatable line a GOP candidate needs to win over moderate voters in the general election.

Bush said that if he runs, it will be against the kind of divisive politics that has marked recent Republican nominating campaigns.

“Can a candidate,” he said, “run with a hopeful, optimistic message, hopefully with enough detail to give a sense that it’s not just idle words and not get back into the vortex of the mud fight?”

SEE ALSO: Is Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush the Latino GOP formula?