Jeb Bush survives – and thrives – at CPAC

National Harbor, Maryland CNN —  

Jeb Bush didn’t just survive his journey into the conservative bear pit. By the end, he actually seemed to be enjoying it.

The former Florida governor’s troubled relationship with grassroots conservatives is no secret. He is at odds with much of the Republican base over his backing of immigration reform and national education standards.

That made Bush’s appearance one of the most eagerly awaited moments of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Bush strode onto the stage for his 20-minute test of strength alongside one of the rock stars of the conservative movement, Fox News anchor and radio host Sean Hannity.

He likely had heard ahead of time that his name had drawn mostly boos and jeers whenever it has been mentioned at the conference. And though he appeared nervous at the start, his confidence grew as he went along.

READ: 12 key moments of CPAC

Bush didn’t waver from his core principles, perhaps reflecting on the moment when Mitt Romney declared he was “severely conservative” at CPAC in 2012 in a bid to woo activists, and only succeeded in undermining his appeal to both the base and more moderate voters. He maintained his position that a path to legal status for undocumented workers was the only way that the impasse over the broken immigration system could be solved.

“There is no plan to deport 11 million people,” Bush said, taking direct aim at the core belief of many conservative activists that any reform of immigration whatsoever is akin to amnesty.

“The plan also includes a path to legal status,” Bush said, though he did not go as far as saying that the plan should include a plan for citizenship for illegal immigrants.

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