WASHINGTON – I recently wrote that the Republican Party desperately needs a credible message of growth, opportunity, hope and inclusiveness. If it continues to be mostly the “low taxes party” of middle class and middle-aged White Americans, it has no future as a dynamic force capable of shaping policy at the national level.
An agenda of hope
Well, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush seems to believe in this agenda of hope, outreach, renewed economic strength, and real opportunity for all. And his record as a two terms Governor, plus his serious work on education reform after he left office, make him a credible messenger.
Of course, there is a huge distinction between having good ideas and a good resume, and the ability to sell all this successfully to the party faithful who will vote in the Republican primaries.
Many of them are ideological. They believe that the Republicans should stick with the (tired) message of small government, low taxes and “traditional values”. They may look quite suspiciously at this soft sounding, insufficiently radical Bush.
Jeb Bush’s campaign was officially launched in Florida on June 15. The choreography would suggest that Jeb Bush, while solidly conservative, is also keen on including every body: women, the poor, the disabled, minorities and struggling middle class families.
The people who spoke on his behalf at his rally included a Black Minister, a Latino immigrant lady from Colombia and Toni Jennings, the woman who served with him as Lieutenant Governor. And the (carefully selected?) audience at the rally was quite diverse. Many women, young and old. Many Latinos, a few African Americans. The signs held by the crowd were both in English and Spanish: “All in 4 Jeb“, “Todos por Jeb“, (“All for Jeb”).
Interestingly enough, all the campaign signs have just his first name: “Jeb”. No surname included. No “Bush”. The indirect message here is that he may very well be part of a powerful political dynasty that includes a Senator and two Presidents; but he is running as his own person: “Jeb”.
Real connections with the Latin world
Beyond the long family history, at least one part of Bush’s personal biography may become a huge political asset. Jeb Bush is married to a Mexican lady: Columba Garnica Gallo. He speaks fluent Spanish, and their three grown children are bilingual.
In combination with his soft position on legalizing almost 12 million illegal immigrants, (most of them are Latinos), will this biographical element help him in engaging Latino communities and winning Latino votes across America? At least in some states their support can be decisive. But this will be relevant in the national elections (should Bush be the GOP candidate). Not many Latinos will vote in the Republican primaries, and winning them in order to become the GOP nominee is goal number one.
In fact, this pro-Latino bent may be a liability, at least in some primaries. Many conservatives, and these are the people who vote in the Republican primaries, may not like a pro-immigration, “pro-amnesty” candidate. Indeed, many among them would like to deport all illegal immigrants, (yes, all 12 million), while essentially closing the border with Mexico.
Be that as it may, Bush’s unequivocal message is that all Latino voters, as well as all other minorities, should be welcome in the Republican Party. At the June 15 rally one of his supporters spoke at length in Spanish. Bush’s son George, (who looks a lot more Mexican than waspish), spoke both in English and in Spanish. And candidate Bush himself delivered part of his speech in flawless Spanish.
Just politics or real conviction?
Again, is this just theatre, political calculation? Or is all this sincere?
I believe that Jeb Bush is sincere. He realizes that there are millions of Latin American immigrants in the US. They are Americans. Well, then let’s treat them as Americans. Reaching out to them with a message of opportunity and inclusiveness is both appropriate and smart.
Why do the Republicans have to believe that all immigrants will listen only to the Democrats, because they promise subsidies and financial aid?
Why should Latino voters be opposed to a message of low taxes, quality education for their children, fiscal responsibility, and pro-growth policies that create more jobs, this way expanding opportunity?
Will the Republican base be swayed?
In the end, will the hard core Republicans –these are the people who tend to vote in large numbers in the primaries– be convinced by Jeb Bush? Will they appreciate that it is possible to be both inclusive and fiscally responsible? Will they be convinced that a good Republican can be pro-growth and pro-public education reform at the same time?
And, last but not least, will they appreciate that a Republican who can convincingly reach out beyond the (relatively narrow) GOP base is the best choice to score a victory against Hillary Clinton in November 2016?
I guess we shall soon find out. Still, for the moment, I can only say that I like this candidate and the optimistic message of economic renaissance and wide opportunity for all he now carries.