Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor raised in Texas and schooled in Miami’s business community, says his Republican Party can narrow a wide gap with Democrats among Latino voters as people “get to know” the party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
“I think the gap can narrow, and it will narrow as people get to know Mitt Romney,” Bush said at a breakfast in Tampa this morning sponsored by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post.
Asked if Romney can salvage damage done among Latino voters in this election cycle with a divisive primary debate and a party platform tough on illegal immigration, Bush said: “I think the tone will improve as it focuses on the candidate, not the platform or the other candidates.”
Asked in an interview on Bloomberg Television after the breakfast if his party runs the risk of becoming the minority party because of the issue, Bush said: It’s “not just Latinos, but Asians as well.” The growing immigrant community, he said, “will become the dominant factor in politics.”
Bush, son of one former president and brother of another, says his party must evolve from the GOP to the “GSP” — “Grand Solutions Party.”
At the same time, Bush — who supports the DREAM Act and says his brother, former President George W. Bush, came close to winning immigration reform — suggested that among all the issues at play in the election, “immigration is down the list.” It polls significantly lower than jobs and the economy.
If Democrats think they can play it as a wedge issue among Hispanic voters, Bush said, that too is “disrespectful” of voters. He also maintained that President Barack Obama has politicized the issue with an executive order enforcing some of what the DREAM Act hoped to achieve and rolling that out in the midst of candidate appearances before a Latino organization.
“My brother attempted to do it… He had the votes,” Bush said of immigration reform legislation that would have enabled undocumented immigrants to seek a path to citizenship. “We wouldn’t be talking about the issue if we’d had immigration reform in 2006.”
Bush will join the speakers on stage at the Republican National Convention tonight, and asked what advice he’d offer for Romney in accepting the party’s presidential nomination, the former governor said: “Speak from his heart.”
It is “hard for a guy” who has been raised with a strong sense of discipline and reserve, he added. “You can’t undo 63 years of how you’ve lived your life.”
Romney has been wrongly vilified in the campaign, Bush says.
“It’s interesting that a guy who has been incredibly successful” in business and in his private life “is viewed as somehow flawed,” Bush said. “He’s going to have to find a Romneyesque way of showing who he is.”
Later, in the interview with Bloomberg TV at the Bloomberg Link site across a water channel from the Republican convention, Bush said: “I think he needs to share a little about his life and what drives his life” and offer “an optimistic agenda” for economic growth.
As a number of convention speakers have addressed Romney’s religion — with former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas saying he cares more about where Romney will take the country than where he takes his family to church — Romney too plans to address it tonight.
“I don’t think, in the general election…. I don’t think it’ll be an issue,” Bush said of Romney’s faith — R9mney is the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints nominated by a major party for the White House.
Instead, Bush said, people should look at the role Romney has played in his church — serving as a lay bishop in the Boston area. That, in addition to his business demands, “is pretty remarkable.”
Romney, Bush said, offers renewed hope for leadership in a Washington that has been paralyzed by partisanship. Obama has failed at that task, says Bush, whose father, George H.W. Bush, also served as president. On Obama: “He was dealt a tough hand — I got that,” Bush said. But he never reached out in “a bipartisan way.”
Even after the midterm elections, in which the party got a “butt kick” unseen since the 1930s, Obama failed to do what former President Bill Clinton did — start working with the other party — according to Bush. President Lyndon Johnson would have reached out and grabbed his adversaries “by the ears,” Bush joked.
“Hope and change was in the air. Love was in the air,” Bush said of Obama’s election in 2008. Then the president larded the stimulus bill with ineffective spending and “out-sourced” the health-care legislation to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, he said. “Naturally, Republicans are going to be reticent” about dealing with a president like that, Bush said.
“This president doesn’t even call John Boehner” — the Republican House speaker — Bush said at breakfast this morning.
Asked in the TV interview if Romney can overcome that capital partisanship, Bush said: “You don’t know until you try.”