NBC's Gregory: Would Reagan Be Able to 'Exist' in 'Today's Republican Party'?

During an interview with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for NBC's online Meet the Press Press Pass, which is also aired by some NBC-owned stations following Meet the Press on Sundays, moderator David Gregory referenced Bush being at the Reagan Presidential Library and employed the tired liberal talking point that Ronald Reagan would be too moderate for the modern GOP: "...the president you speak of and so many conservatives do, raised taxes, was for immigration reform, that a lot of modern-day conservatives would – would find quite distasteful. Could he exist? Could he get elected in today's Republican Party? Or would he be seen as a liberal?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Bush rejected Gregory's speculation: "He also stopped the – the advancement of the federal government's overreach, he cut taxes in a dramatic way..."

Throughout the rest of the exchange, Gregory repeatedly fretted over Bush's supposedly "hard line" approach to illegal immigration in his new book, Immigration Wars:

> You write in your book, and it's a fairly hard line, "A grant of citizenship" – and that's the important word – "A grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage." You got some tough press treatment in all of this, this week as you talked about your book.

> Do you think there's a view, and do you share it among Republicans, that to allow illegal immigrants who are now in this country to become citizens would, in effect, be able to create all new Democratic voters that would deeply hurt the Republican Party's chances of winning national elections?

> Governor, don't you think a hard line view, as you take in your book, which says, "We can make – put them on a path to legalization, but don't make them citizens," fortifies a hardline Republican view that says don't allow them to become citizens, undocumented workers in the country right now, because they're automatic Democrats.

Talking to Bush on the March 4 Today, co-host Matt Lauer wondered if the GOP could repair its "damage" with Hispanics in time for the 2016 presidential election.


Here is a transcript of Gregory's exchange with Bush aired on March 10:

11:32AM ET

DAVID GREGORY: Isn't it interesting though, you're sitting at the Reagan Library as we talk today, and yet the president you speak of and so many conservatives do, raised taxes, was for immigration reform, that a lot of modern-day conservatives would – would find quite distasteful. Could he exist? Could he get elected in today's Republican Party? Or would he be seen as a liberal?

JEB BUSH: He also stopped the – the advancement of the federal government's overreach, he cut taxes in a dramatic way, he had – he found common ground to extend the – the life of Social Security. He did all this in a way that didn't violate his principles, but he was – he also didn't try to demonize his opponent – he embraced them. He embraced his opponents and – and because of that, found a lot more common ground. So the – the – the climate was different then than it is today, but we could restore that climate. And I think that'd be very positive for our country.

(...)

GREGORY: Well, you write in your book, and it's a fairly hard line, "A grant of citizenship"
– and that's the important word – "A grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage." You got some tough press treatment in all of this, this week...

BUSH: Yeah.

GREGORY: ...as you talked about your book. The Miami Herald, "Jeb Bush reverses stance on immigration; No citizenship path for undocumented," the National Journal, "Jeb Bush's Poorly- Timed Flip-Flop on Immigration," Politico, "Bush Takes a U-Turn on Pathway to Citizenship." I reviewed some of the things you said before. Why did you change your view on this?

BUSH: First of all, my view has been that in order to get comprehensive reform, we could take either path. Either a path to citizenship or a path to legalization. The important point is that illegal immigrants should not get better benefits at a lower cost than people that have been waiting patiently. So assume we passed a law this year, and I hope that's the case, five years from now we should look back and there should be fewer people coming illegally because we have an open legal system. Both of those paths could create that as long as you change the rest of the system as well.

So what's going on in the Senate and in the House right now is very positive. I support what Senators Graham and Rubio and McCain and Flake are doing with their Democratic counterparts. And if they can find a way to get to a path to citizenship over the long haul, then I would support that. But this book was written to try to get people that were against reform to be for it. And it is a place where I think a lot of conservatives should feel comfortable that there's a way to do this and not violate their principles.

GREGORY: You know, it's interesting. There's obviously a political component to this about who wants what kind of deal and what does it mean as we move forward.

After Romney lost, a lot of focus on the Hispanic vote in this country and the Republican Party's problem with Hispanics. It's interesting one of the things that Romney says, right, to his donors after he loses is, "What the President's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote." That was with a campaign call with donors.

Do you think there's a view, and do you share it among Republicans, that to allow illegal immigrants who are now in this country to become citizens would, in effect, be able to create all new Democratic voters that would deeply hurt the Republican Party's chances of winning national elections?

BUSH: No, I don't believe that. I mean, if you look at Asian Americans for example, in general they have higher income than the median of our country, more intact families, more entrepreneurship, higher levels of education, and they supported President Obama 75-to-24. Higher margins than with Hispanics.

I think there's a problem that's a little bit bigger and it goes back to my belief that we need to be offering a compelling alternative. An alternative that says that the lack of social mobility needs to be addressed not by higher taxes and more government, but giving people the tools to rise up and to be successful. That an opportunity society is the path that we should be on. And that aspirational message could convince a lot of people that right now are supporting a more stasis kind of approach. But we have to have the alternative, we have to actually advance the cause of freedom and of entrepreneurship and of building capacity so people can freely pursue their dreams as they see fit.
 
GREGORY: But don't you think – Governor, don't you think a hard line view, as you take in your book, which says, "We can make – put them on a path to legalization, but don't make them citizens," fortifies a hardline Republican view that says don't allow them to become citizens, undocumented workers in the country right now, because they're automatic Democrats.

GREGORY: No, no, that's – at least that's not the view – we were looking at this not from a political view. We were looking at this about how to create a policy so you eliminate the incentive going forward for people to come illegally.

There are people that are on a waiting list, theoretically, that's 160 years long in the Philippines to come to this country. And in Mexico we have a similar kind of lengths of waiting. This is not fair. This is a question of fairness. If people patiently wait to come, it seems to me they should be given a better deal than people that have come illegally. No matter what their motives. Because the great majority of people come illegally have pure motives, good motives, they want to provide for their families, they want to work hard. And that's why giving them a path to legal status so they can come out from the shadows is the right thing to do. Now, if the final bill that comes out does provide a recognition of this question of fairness, then, yeah, sure. But it's going to be something that looks closer to what, I think, we propose in our book than what's being talked about right now.

GREGORY: Just one more on immigration. Should it be disqualifying for a candidate in the future if they've hired an illegal immigrant, should that disqualify their run for office?

BUSH: I don't know. That's – that's above my pay grade. I would hope that people try hard to make sure that they hire legal workers. It's the law.

GREGORY: But as a presidential candidate you would think that's disqualifying or not? If you become one.

BUSH: Again, I don't know. I haven't given that any thought. I can tell you that in my case I've had people that have come from other countries and they've been here legally.

GREGORY: We will take a quick break here and be back with more from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush after this.

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Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC