Jeb Bush v. Mitt Romney — the personal is political

It looks increasingly likely that Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney will both seek the Republican presidential nomination. Washington Post political reporters Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa discuss the relationship between the two.

The first part of their article is the equivalent of a friend telling you, “I like Joe.” The second part of the article is the equivalent of what comes after the friend adds, “but.” As always the second part is more interesting and instructive.

Bill Kristol goes so far as to tell the Post that “a Romney-Bush race could end up being nastier than Jeb against someone like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.” Why? Because “a Cruz-Bush race is pretty straightforward and ideological; a Romney-Bush race would be more personal — about whose turn it is and who is owed it.”

There’s wisdom in Kristol’s comment. It’s often the case that the less is at stake, the nastier the debate. That’s why, for example, disputes among college faculty members are so notoriously ugly.

However, Bush and Romney can’t publicly debate whose turn it is to be president and who is owed the nomination. Thus, in the absence of sharp substantive disagreement, there’s a good chance that personal rancor between the two would remain largely out of public view.

The problem is that the issue of immigration deeply divides Bush and Romney. Bush is on a mission to create a Republican party that is kinder and gentler towards Hispanics, including those who are here illegally. Romney does not share this agenda.

As Rucker and Costa note, Bush has publicly expressed his unhappiness with the stance Romney took on immigration during the 2012 election. He criticized Romney for being “sucked into other people’s agendas” and he stated that a candidate’s goal should be “winning with purpose, winning with meaning, winning with your integrity.”

Bush thus holds himself out as morally superior to Romney, apparently assuming that the 2012 candidate declined to adopt Bush’s views on immigration, not out of conviction, but because he wanted to win at all costs. That’s getting personal.

Perhaps Bush is correct in his assessment of Romney’s motives, perhaps not. But we should be wary of a potential president who seems willing to assume that those who disagree with him are doing other people’s bidding and lack “purpose” and “integrity.”

It’s clear, in any event, that the immigration issue creates a huge wedge between the two candidates. The issue seems to be fueling personal animosity, even before Bush and Romney have publicly debated it.

In other words, things could become ugly, indeed.

JOHN adds: I would hate to see either Bush or Romney get the nomination, but if the key difference between them is that Bush is pro-amnesty, there is no way he can win.

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