Jeb Bush’s best moment in a presidential debate so far came Tuesday night when he did what he promised to do long before he was a formal candidate: stick by his principles even if it means upsetting Republican primary voters.
Bush delivered an impassioned defense of immigration, an issue so toxic with much of the conservative base that on the debate stage it seemed to cleave the primary race into two camps — one with candidates like Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who staked out a relatively moderate position, and another with candidates like real-estate tycoon Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who endorsed far harsher enforcement.
“Twelve million illegal immigrants, to send them back, 500,000 a month, is just not — not possible,” Bush said. “And it’s not embracing American values. And it would tear communities apart. And it would send a signal that we’re not the kind of country that I know America is.”
“And even having this conversation sends a powerful signal — they’re doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign right now when they hear this,” Bush added, to applause. A Hillary Clinton aide did, in fact, confirm high-fives on Twitter.
Cruz thundered in response: “The Democrats are laughing, because if Republicans join Democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose.... We should enforce the law. We’re tired of being told it’s anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.”
The exchange, which began with Trump, continued with Kasich and concluded with Bush and Cruz, might have been the most revealing of the fourth Republican primary debate, which took place in Milwaukee and was hosted by Fox Business Network and the Wall Street Journal.
Photo credit: Morry Gash, Associated Press