Jeb Bush wrote the book on immigration. Donald Trump blusters about it and appeals to the worst impulses of Americans who feel threatened by the nation's increasing diversity that they are powerless to stop. It is up to the former Florida governor to take the high road on a smarter approach to immigration policy and to call out Trump's pandering pledge to "take back our country'' even as other Republican presidential candidates meekly fall in line with the bombastic baiting.
Bush ramped up his criticism of Trump's reckless immigration pledges this week at a campaign stop in a Texas border town. It is about time someone held the billionaire accountable. Bush called Trump's plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and build a 2,000-mile wall along the Mexican border unrealistic and unaffordable. He unequivocally supported the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing citizenship to anyone born in this country, which Trump wants to overturn.
That is a responsible message on immigration, but it is a complicated one that is not easily packaged into sound bites on cable television and 140 characters on Twitter. Bush, who speaks Spanish and met his wife in Mexico, is comfortable in a culturally diverse community such as Florida and should keep playing to his strengths. They stand in sharp contrast to Trump's irresponsible rants, and to the lack of fortitude by other Republican candidates such as Sens. Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham, who are echoing Trump's opposition to birthright citizenship.
Bush understands immigration, and he recognizes that immigrants illegally entering the United States from Mexico are searching for jobs and better lives for their families. They are not mostly drug dealers and rapists, as Trump has characterized them. Bush also recognizes it is impossible to deport every undocumented immigrant and that there has to be a path to legal status, even if he has stopped describing it as a path to citizenship. His six-point plan for securing the border offers workable solutions such as investing in more technology, even if it is cloaked in more conservative language to appeal to Republican primary voters.
The challenge for Bush is to avoid being pulled down to Trump's level. Bush unfortunately picked up on Trump's use of the derogatory term "anchor babies'' to refer to children born in this country to illegal immigrants. He made it worse by explaining he was referring to fraudulent efforts to bring in illegal immigrants from Asia specifically to have children. Nobody is for that. But the context of Bush's explanation got lost in another war of sound bites with Trump.
Eventually, this campaign for the Republican nomination has to turn from a billionaire's outrageous quip of the day to one of more substance. The summer of Trump will fade, voters will become more focused and substance on immigration and other issues will become more important. Bush should continue to be the responsible adult on immigration, stick to substance and focus on the ultimate goal rather than the latest Twitter fight that he cannot win.