jeb, scott, donald
L-R): Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush pose at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016. Bush and Trump have exchanged criticisms and down-right insults since the debate. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Donald Trump’s immigration antics hurt Jeb Bush, help him and threaten to hurt him again. The Donald simultaneously intrigues and disgusts American voters with his plan to build a wall, end birthright citizenship and prioritize the deportation of every immigrant man, woman and child in the country illegally. Meanwhile, “ El Jebe ” has a wonky middle-of-the-road proposal to give immigrants legal status, but not a pathway to citizenship. It’s a pro-business, mildly pro-immigrant policy that does not ignite the passions of opponents or supporters (or fund ers) at least relative to Trump.

At the same time, Trump’s immigration proposals make Bush’s ideas seem palatable by comparison, muffling whatever criticisms do eek out against his own immigration policies. If he can secure the nomination, that might help his case in the general election. On Sunday, the former Florida Gov took Trump to task for singling out Mexican immigration and Mexican immigrants. Trump has accused the country Cuban-Mariel-boatlift-style exportation of ruffians. Bush, an immigration policy wonk, argued that Trump’s policies are unreasonable and implied that they sprang from a flawed assessment of current immigration levels and sources.

“Right now the number of Mexicans crossing the border is basically flat,” Bush said during a radio interview on Sunday, according to The Hill . “The immigrants that are crossing legally or illegally in both cases are from Central America now [...] It changes.”

Trump accuses Mexico of engineering a sort of Cuban Mariel-boatlift-style exportation of under-skilled ruffians. Liberal pundits warn (and secretly hope) that Trump’s immigration pandering will stain the Republican brand and any eventual GOP nominee. Bush is trying as hard as he can to add portray the party as a voice of reason.

“[Trump’s policies are] not conservative and it’s not realistic and it does not embrace American values,” he said in the radio interview. “What Donald Trump is proposing is a wall that can’t be built, and if it was, it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Bush’s more traditional contenders such as Chris Christie and Scott Walker hesitate to dismiss Trump entirely. Over the weekend, they tried to absorb some of Trump’s anti-immigrant energy, while refusing to endorse some of his most out-of-the-box proposals.

On Monday, Trump countered Bush’s criticisms with an attack ad that he released on social media. The video combines images of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the immigrant who allegedly killed a San Francisco resident Kate Steinle, with a highly edited 2014 quote from Bush, in which the candidate sympathizes with immigrants.

“Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony [...] it's an act of love," the clip says.

Bush could answer with another reality check. He could point out that Lopez-Sanchez had committed many felonies, unlike most immigrants who are in the country illegally, or that the shooting was ruled an accident according to a forensics expert who testified in the trial last week, or that his original quote was about hard-working immigrants who enter the country hoping to provide for their families. But how much will reality matter in his ongoing feud with Trump? On instagram, Trump’s video had 4,000 likes in the first hour.

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