Former Florida governor Jeb Bush warned his Republican Party that it “cannot sustain a message of being against things. You have to be for things,” he told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview that aired on Wednesday.
Bush, who is considered a potential Republican presidential contender for 2016 and whose brother George W. was elected to the presidency with 44 percent support among Hispanic Americans in 2004, argued that the party’s defeat late last year shouldn’t be attributed to lackluster enthusiasm from racial minorities alone, even if only 27 percent of Latino voters backed Mitt Romney.
“It’s not just immigration,” said Bush. “It’s our party, the party that has been, I think, the source of many of the important reforms grounded in conservative principles over the last generation of time, has become way too reactionary. Way too against whatever someone’s for.”
Republicans in Congress have strongly opposed President Barack Obama’s economic, fiscal and health-care policies since the Democrat took office in early 2009. Even if they came up with two comprehensive budget plans after regaining their majority in the House of Representatives in 2010 that included entitlement and health-care reforms which the president has been reluctant to accept, their alternatives for education, economic and immigration policy remain ill defined.
Bush championed education reform, including public funding for privately run charter schools, as governor of Florida and won a majority of the Hispanic vote when he ran for reelection in 2002.
This week, Bush released a book, Immigration Wars, in which he suggests that illegal aliens should be able to attain legal status but not citizenship, a recognition that the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who currently live in the United States illegally will not be made to leave. Such a proposal may be more acceptable to conservatives after they so spectacularly lost the minority vote in 2012.
At the same time, Bush cautioned that Republicans cannot waver from their views on free enterprise and limited government. “Be principled in the advocacy of these views and not just be against things,” he said.
In the last election, a majority of voters in the swing states that determined its outcome agreed, according to exit polls, that the federal government should do less. Voters who identified as either conservative or moderate far outnumbered those who said to lean left in all seven of the states where neither the Democrats nor the Republicans had a solid majority. Even relatively more voters in Iowa and Ohio identified as conservative than nationwide yet both reelected Barack Obama.
With the exception of New Hampshire and Wisconsin, in all of the swing states more voters were also opposed to the president’s health reform law than in favor of it.
A majority of Americans sympathizes with the Republicans’ arguments for smaller government. On cultural issues like immigration but also environmentalism and gay rights, public opinion increasingly favors the Democrats, however.
Changing demographics, especially in the South, could further tip the balance in national elections in the Democrats’ favor as minority voters are put off by the Republicans’ anti-immigration rhetoric.
New Mexico, formerly a swing state, is already safe for the Democrats due to its large Hispanic population. Colorado, Florida and ultimately Republican bastions like Arizona and Texas could move in the left’s direction as white seniors die out and the Hispanic populations grow.
Bush, for his part, wouldn’t commit to a future presidential run in his interview on MSNBC but recognized that Republicans have to become a majority party again before they can enact right-wing legislation.
“I don’t know what the rhythm and pace of 2014 looks like,” he said, referring to the upcoming congressional midterm elections, “much less 2016. But I think you have to understand though that we need to be the governing party. The whole point of this is to take conservative principles and apply them. And the only way you can do that is get fifty plus one.”