He is, by political instincts as a Florida politician, and by the example of his own family, a immigration moderate. Yet there is no issue which galvanizes the Republican base as much as its anti-immigration resentment. As Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson argue in their brilliant and definitive analysis of the Tea Party, immigration animus combines all of the cultural and economic anxieties of tea party types. Immigrants–and we are talking here about Latino immigrants–are seen as “freeloaders” who defy the cultural norms of hard working, white America even as they sponge benefits from it. In their many interviews with Tea Party supporters around the country, the authors were themselves surprised to find that immigration was the issue that touched a nerve, whether in border states like Arizona or seemingly anomalous places like Massachusetts.
It remains insufficiently acknowledged that Rick Perry’s decline in the polls began not as a result of his inept debate performances, per se, but when he told a debate audience that “it did not have a heart” for opposing his bill to give the children of illegal immigrants a tuition break at Texas state universities. According to a Washington Post/ABC poll soon after this remark, his support among tea party supporters declined from 45% to 10%!
Recall that Jeb’s big brother, W, saw his GOP base support collapse after his failed attempt to pass immigration reform. Only then did his polls decline into the 20s. In short, Jeb Bush is no guarantee to appease the howling Republican base. Quite the contrary.