Hillary Clinton wants you to see Donald Trump as the id of the Republican presidential field: He says things all the Republican candidates believe deep down but are too polite and political to say out loud.
Her campaign's latest stab at this argument: a Twitter video that claims Trump's position on immigration is actually identical to Jeb Bush's:
How do Jeb Bush and Donald Trump differ on immigration? Spoiler alert: They don't. https://t.co/dSPxK07bEC— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 25, 2015
But there's something odd about the video. It doesn't actually include the extreme immigration positions that Trump has gotten so much attention for: building a wall across the US/Mexico border and paying for it by raising fees on (and confiscating remittances from) Mexican immigrants; ending birthright citizenship; and deporting not only 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently in the US, but also their 4.5 million American-born children whose US citizenship Trump would challenge in court.
In other words, in order to make Jeb Bush look more extreme, Clinton ends up making Donald Trump look more reasonable.
Donald Trump's support for "legal status" means something totally different from Jeb Bush's
The meat of the (short) Clinton video is three sets of clips, each of which juxtaposes Trump saying something with Bush saying a similar thing.
The first clip establishes that both candidates would roll back President Obama's executive actions to protect some unauthorized immigrants from deportation and allow them to work in the country legally. That seems accurate and important (though, as with any policy, the real questions are when the president would do this and what regime would replace it). The third just has both candidates saying "anchor babies" — a phrase that Bush has started using recently, ostensibly in response to Trump, but that he's trying to justify as a reference to the real-life phenomenon of birth tourism from China rather than the imaginary fear of pregnant women crossing the border from Mexico.
But the second clip, which appears to show each candidate saying he supports "legal status" but not citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently in the US, is a pretty big stretch.
While Bush hasn't released a position paper on legalization of unauthorized immigrants, what he's said on the campaign trail appears to be similar to what he's laid out in his book Immigration Wars: allowing unauthorized immigrants in the US to apply for legal status if they meet certain criteria.
Trump's clip supporting "legal status," on the other hand, is pulled from an interview with Dana Bash in late July — weeks before he fleshed out his position on what to do with the US's unauthorized population, which he's since laid out in several interviews (though, like Bush, his actual immigration policy paper doesn't address the unauthorized population). For Trump, legal status is something that a few select "excellent" unauthorized immigrants can apply for — after they (and their children) have been deported from the US. In other words, Trump wants to deport 15.5 million people, and then bring some unspecified number of them back.
There are important questions about the meaning of Bush's policy, including whether the grants of legal status would occur alongside tougher immigration enforcement at the border and in the interior of the US. That determines how many people would be left to apply for legal status once applications opened up, and whether they'd have been able to make a living in the meantime. But the bottom line is that Bush doesn't want to deport all 11 million immigrants who are currently in the US without papers, much less their US-born children. Trump does.
This isn't just a chronological difference between "legal status later" and "legal status first." In addition to sparing people the pain of deportation and uncertainty that they'd be let back in, the policy Bush has outlined would be more likely to allow a majority of people living here without papers to stay legally.
The video completely ignores future legal immigration
Since Trump also wants to cut legal immigration to the US pretty drastically — for both workers on visas, and relatives of current US citizens — the options for unauthorized immigrants post-deportation would likely be slim, and take years or longer to arrive.
By contrast, while Bush has implied that he's open to cutting family-based immigration, he's also said that it should be "easier to come here legally than illegally" and talked about increasing legal immigration. When comparing two candidates' positions "on immigration," their positions on future legal immigration are worth talking about.
Why Clinton is doing this
Clinton is making Trump and Bush sound similar by ignoring legal immigration and leaving out the "mass deportation" portion of Trump's plan. She can't make the case that Bush's position is as far to the right as Trump's, so she's downplaying Trump's extremism to narrow the gap.
Clinton has several competitors for the Democratic nomination, including a surprisingly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders from the left and a long-rumored challenge from Joe Biden from the Beltway. But while they're in the same race, she's not actively running against them. Nor is she running against the current top-polling Republicans: Trump, but also Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Ted Cruz. She's running against Jeb Bush. Her campaign may believe he's still the most likely candidate to win the Republican nomination this year, or they may feel he's the Republican with the best chance of winning moderate voters and want to head that off.
When it comes to the Latino vote, the Clinton campaign has some reason to worry. Jeb Bush's net favorability among Latinos is +11 percentage points — better, by far, than any other Republican candidate. Donald Trump's, on the other hand...
This explains why the Clinton campaign wants to make Jeb Bush look like Donald Trump. But Trump's immigration position is pretty well-known — at least among people who are already offended by it. Trump isn't just identified with immigration as an issue, he's identified with particular positions: Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals, America needs to build a wall, unauthorized immigrants "have to go." Clinton's video doesn't cover any of that. As a result — bizarrely — it makes Donald Trump look like a fairly mainstream Republican candidate.