In interviews last week during a book tour widely viewed as a prelude to a 2016 presidential bid, Jeb Bush got tripped up by his own party's vacillation over immigration reform.
The incident showed once again the Republican Party's problems in connecting with America's fastest-growing minority.
Bush flipped, and then flopped back again, on whether to allow a path to citizenship or just legal residence for illegal immigrants.
The difference may seem minor, but experts say it carries deep emotional significance to Hispanics, both voters and immigrants, and involves a fundamental principle of American immigration law.
Bush denies he flipped, but regardless, his difficulty communicating a clear position illustrates the party's problems.
Few Republicans, and virtually no non-Hispanics, claim a closer connection to Latinos than Bush, who's bilingual and married to a Mexican-American immigrant.
Also, few have a stronger reputation as a policy maven.
"He has a longer history and more consistent record of reaching out to Hispanics than anyone, even Marco Rubio," said retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson.
The quibbling over a path to citizenship "has sort of tarnished that image," Paulson said. "That was his real strength as a Republican." Bush's new book, "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution," co-authored with Clint Bolick, appears to rule out a path to citizenship for those now in the country illegally.
According to news reports on advance copies, it says permanent residency "should not lead to citizenship. ... It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences -- in this case, that those who have violated the laws can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship."
Bush stood by that in the initial interview for his tour Monday.
"If we want to create an immigration policy that's going to work, we can't continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration," he said on the "Today Show." "There has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally."
That put him in opposition to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the bipartisan "Gang of 8" senators who last month proposed an immigration reform plan including a path to citizenship. One gang member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., expressed displeasure, saying Bush's stance "undercuts what we're trying to do."
It also appeared to conflict with Bush's own past stances.
In a June PBS interview with Charlie Rose, he recommended, "Either a path to citizenship, which I would support -- and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives -- or a path to legalization, a path to residency of some kind."
When reporters noted the flip, Bush walked it back -- putting him in the uncomfortable position of appearing to contradict his own, just-published book.
On Tuesday, he told a CNN interviewer, "I have supported both -- both a path to legalization or a path to citizenship -- with the underlying principle being that there should be no incentive for people to come illegally at the expense of coming legally."
On Joe Scarborough's "Morning Joe," he said, "I would support it (a path to citizenship) if it didn't create an incentive for people to come illegally at the expense of coming legally."
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