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Jeb Bush dares to piss off CPAC crowd

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In what appeared to be the most anticipated moment at CPAC 2015, Jeb Bush went into the lion’s den this afternoon and seemed to emerge not only unscathed, but actually stronger in the process.

Although some of his responses regarding immigration garnered boos, they weren’t substantial, and were drowned out by the cheers when it came to discussing other issues in a nearly 25-minute  stand-up interview with Sean Hannity.

“The simple fact is there is no plan to deport 11 million people,” he said to near silence in the room. But then a groundswell of cheering began.  “We should give them a path to legal status where they work, where they don’t receive government benefits. Where they don’t break the law. Where they learn English. And where they make a contribution to society,” to a mixture of boos but louder cheers.

Bush clarified his position on how he would change immigration policy, citing his 2013 book with Clint Bolick called Immigration Wars. He said he would narrow family petitioning by changing it for family members to petition for just spouses and minor children. “Not this broad definition…that crowds out what we need, which are economic-driven immigrants, those who want to come here to work, to invest in their dreams in this country, to create opportunities for all of us.”

Current law allows qualified family members in the United States to petition for a green card for their spouses, parents, children, and siblings. Legal Permanent Residents or green card holders can petition for spouses and unmarried children.

Hannity queried Bush on his support for advocating for drivers licenses for undocumented workers. “Didn’t happen,” Bush snapped back, which is accurate. He was also able to easily deflect any criticism about supporting in-state tuition for undocumented students by saying that it was passed last year in Florida by “one of the most conservative state legislatures, I  might add, and a conservative governor.”

The thread of the interview then switched to the other issue in which Bush stands by himself among most of the potential GOP presidential candidates — Common Core. When asked if it was a federal takeover of the schools,  he quickly responded, “No!” but said that it was incumbent on Congress that the federal government should have no role in the creation of standards or curriculum and content. “The role of the federal government, if there’s any, is to provide the incentives for more school choice,” he clarified.

He defended emphasizing accountability, and boasted about vouchers and school choice in Florida, education issues he created and championed during his eight-year tenure.

When asked about how the Obama Administration has avoided the term “Islam” when referring to terrorism, Bush called it “very dangerous,” adding, “We need to heighten awareness of what this threat means. Be honest about it.”

Attempting to slag off critics who say he doesn’t have a natural affinity for campaigning, Bush went Ronald Reagan optimism in defending his previous comments that the GOP needs to be less about opposing things and more about “for things.”

“There are a lot other conservatives that haven’t been asked. They don’t know if they’re conservative. If we share our enthusiasm and love for our country and belief in our philosophy, we will be able to get Latinos and young people and other people that you need to win to get 50 (percent),” he said, as the CPAC throng cheered lustily.

The cheers for Bush were all the more notable for how the crowd was allegedly prepared to walk out on him.

And talk-show host Laura Ingraham seemed to want to prime the hate on him as much as she apparently does, as she spent a part of her speech before the CPAC crowd trashing on the former Florida governor, as well as his wife, Columba.

“Jeb could really explode the gender gap,” Ingraham said. “Women could really turn out in droves for Jeb Bush. What woman doesn’t like a man who gives her a blank check at Tiffany’s? Diamonds are a girl’s best friend — that would be a great theme song for Jeb Bush.”

That was a reference to the 1999 incident when federal customs officials detained Mrs. Bush on how much she spent on clothing and jewelry during a five-day shopping trip in Paris.

“We could dispense with this whole nomination process together,” Ingraham continued. “Why don’t we just call it quits? And Jeb and Hillary can run on the same ticket. I mean, going through the list of things they agree on: Common Core, amnesty, giving Obama fast-track trade authority, allowing the trade deals with China, the surveillance culture. So I’m designing the bumper sticker. It could be, Clush 2016: What difference does it make?”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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