Jeb Bush Still Has Much to Prove on Immigration, Group Says

Bush's troubles echo larger issue with Hispanic voters for Republicans.

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to reporters in Little Rock, Ark., on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush still has yet to prove he's the elder statesman and immigration policy whisperer many Republicans hope he can be, following a week long media blitz with appearances on five separate news shows Sunday.

One Latino political advocacy group, Presente.org, criticized Bush Monday, calling his "flip-flopping" to be "disconcerting and very problematic."

[SEE: Political Cartoons on Immigration]

"Jeb Bush was supposed to be one of the leaders of a 'new' Republican Party with respect to immigrants and Latinos" said Arturo Carmona, the group's executive director in a release. "Writing in your book that you oppose citizenship and then saying that you support citizenship is not what real leaders do."

Bush has long been on moderate Republican ground when it comes to immigration reform and party insiders, reflecting on a terrible record of winning over Hispanic voters in 2012, hope he can bridge the divide.

But Bush, who is promoting a book on the subject and been making the rounds in Washington in a way that has many talking about his presidential chances, has left the public with a somewhat muddled message about his position on dealing with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States.

Most of the criticism surrounding Bush from pro-immigration reform groups centers on his past support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, versus the tone in his book which appears to shun this approach. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Bush's book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution says, "A grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage."

[READ: Jeb Bush's Immigration Stumble Shows Pol's Rust]

Bush, attempting to rectify his positions, said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation, "We need complete reform, and if that happens, the work being done in Washington right now—the effort is to create this disincentive for illegal immigration, and incentive for legal immigration—then I would support a path to citizenship."

Immigration reform could prove to be a critical issue for Republicans competing for the 2016 presidential nomination as other potential candidates include Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is currently involved in Senate negotiations on immigration reform legislation, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Tea Party favorite. Both Cruz and Rubio are Latino.

Any Republican will have a tough time navigating the primary process, which brings out the most conservative party faithful, with a general election campaign that wins over Latino voters. Texas Gov. Rick Perry found that out in 2012, as he lost momentum during his bid for the Republican presidential nomination after he accused those who didn't support in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants of being heartless during a debate. On the flip side, eventual GOP standard bearer Mitt Romney, after pitching a "self-deportation" plan during the primary, lost Hispanic voters in historic levels.

Steffen Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University and political analyst for CNN Español, says Bush's muddled media rollout isn't particularly helpful in building up GOP appeal among Latino voters.

"His problem is he's playing to two different audiences; one of them is the Republican primary voter and caucus goers and the other is to Latinos and others would like to see an opportunity for citizenship," he says. "You can't do that. You can't have two heads on your shoulders and I think that's a real problem."

Hispanic voters are "gun shy" when it comes to Republicans, Schmidt says.

"You can't just change your messaging; you have to show them you want to reach out more," he adds. "That skepticism has to be overcome by more than Rubio giving a talk in English and Spanish in response to the president's State of the Union."

More News:

  • Referendum: Will Bush's Immigration Flip-Flop Hurt Him?
  • President Obama Makes Case for Immigration Reform
  • In Sequester Panic, Don't Lose Sight of Immigration

  • Corrected on : Updated 3/11/13: This story has been updated to include comments from Steffen Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University and political analyst at CNN Español.