Jeb Bush, GOP eminence grise and potential '16 presidential candidate, has been manically spinning through the news cycle, parsing and contradicting himself at every turn. But after days of careful study, I've finally figured out where he stands:

He's for and against a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but he's also fine with just giving them permanent legal status, which is less than a path to citizenship. He's sometimes for both ideas, or sometimes for either one, depending on how he words it on a given day.

Well. That should clear things up.

It's been weird listening to Jeb lately, because I was long under the impression that the ex-Florida governor — and reputedly the brainiest member of the Bush clan — was an outspokenly inclusive guy who wanted to school his virtually all-white party in the realities of the burgeoning Hispanic vote.

In early '11, he warned a Republican audience that "without the active involvement of Hispanics, we will not be the governing philosophy of our country." Most Hispanics support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; for years, Jeb has championed the same.

Two random examples: In 2009, after co-chairing a bipartisan task force on immigration, he said that "we ignore an issue that needs to be solved, which is what do we do with people who are here permanently, who have made contributions, who, if given a path to citizenship, would do what's right and take the necessary steps to achieve legalized status and citizenship." (He has the Bush gene for being less than concise, but you see what he's saying.)

And last June, in a PBS interview with Charlie Rose, he proposed "a path to citizenship, which I would support, and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives."

But now Jeb has written a book that seems to propose exactly the opposite.

In Immigration Wars, he says that undocumented immigrants "can remain (in America) but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship." Denying them citizenship is "absolutely vital." If they want citizenship, they should first deport themselves back to their native countries, and start the process all over again. If they refuse to leave and insist on remaining here, they should be eligible only for "a path to permanent legal resident status" - in essence, a form of second-class citizenship. In his written words, "permanent residency in this context, however, should not lead to citizenship."

Wait, what? That stance is way to the right of his own brother, W., who as president supported a path to citizenship. That stance is also way to the right of the bipartisan group of eight senators who have aleady endorsed a "tough but fair path to citizenship."

All of a sudden, Jeb sounds like a Republican presidential candidate who wants to navigate his way through the '16 debates without getting booed by the white right-wing nativists. Either that, or he's just trying to serenade what he calls "the mainstream of most conservatives." The bottom line: Jeb's stunning flip flop highlights, yet again, the destructive gravitational pull of the Republican right - destructive, because his rhetoric on the immigration issue is now more twisted than a pretzel.

You can't capture the middle of the electorate in a presidential race by simply pandering to the Republican right (let's Google the words Romney and 2012), so Jeb has accordingly sought to recalibrate. He has expanded his flip flop into a flip flop flip.

On Fox News Sunday, he said that a path to citizenship would be "appropriate, and I applaud the work of the senators and others in Congress who are trying to craft a consensus and a compromise on this issue." On ABC News' Sunday show, he said that the path to citizenship "as is being discussed in the Senate" would be "fine" with him. On MSNBC, he said that if we can craft into law "a path to citizenship where there isn't an incentive for people to come illegally, I'm for it. I don't have a problem with that."

But hang on - the flip flop flip comes with an asterisk. He says that he has been totally consistent all along. Politicians trapped by their own verbal gymnastics always say stuff like that.

Jeb told Fox News, "There's not much light between what (I'm) suggesting in the book, and what is being worked on right now." He told CBS News, "I haven't changed." He told CNN, "I have supported both - both a path to legalization or a path to citizenship." (By "legalization," he's referring to permanent legal status. I think.)

Jeb is worth a smidgen of our sympathy. He knows a '16 candidacy would be futile unless he can connect with the hardline conservatives who abhor a path to citizenship. But this episode shows how tough it is for an inclusive Republican to pander rightward. I thought that the baggage of his brother would be bad enough. Turns out, the baggage of the Republican base is way worse.

-------

Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1