Before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Monday, Jeb Bush reclaimed his role in the 2016 Republican presidential race as the candidate most driven to expand the GOP’s tent and open arms to Latino voters.
He’s declared he’ll keep pushing even if that choice costs him with the party’s conservatives.
Monday, Bush barely uttered the first words of his address to the chamber before being interrupted by protesters calling for him to do more for immigrants, especially those who were brought to the country illegally as children.
“Here is what I believe. I believe we need immigration reform,” Bush said, trying to quell their calls. The protests grew louder as the group chanted, “No hope is not our vote.”
“I believe that Dream Act kids should have a path to citizenship,” Bush said. “I will continue to be consistently for it irrespective of what the political ramifications of that are.”
Bush was alluding to what has been a fiery few months in the Republican presidential election. Since Donald Trump declared in his announcement speech in June that Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs,” “bringing crime,” and “are rapists,” a long line of Republican candidates have tripped over questions about where they stand on immigration policies from birthright citizenship to deportation.
In the race to win support from the Republican base, candidates have applauded Trump’s call to build a “big, beautiful wall” with Mexico, a feat that would cost billions. Bush himself has struggled to disavow Trump’s comments, using dog-whistle terms like “anchor babies” to send a message that he understands the complaints of conservative voters.
Monday, however, Bush appeared more resolute in his attacks against Trump and other immigration hard-liners in his party.
Throwing shade at Trump, of course, may come at a cost, but Bush seems comfortable setting himself up for long-term success in a general election. It's true that he was speaking to a predominately Latino audience on Monday, but Bush appears to understand what others in his party have somehow forgotten. Republican leaders had hoped the party would improve its standing with Latino voters in order to increase their chances of winning a national election. That, however, would require candidates to abandon short-term poll-boosting to save the party for 2016.
After some shaky positions, Bush seems to be once again taking the mantle of Republican realist on the immigration issue. In his speech Monday, Bush reemphasized his personal connection to immigration, recounting the moment when at 17 years old, he saw his future wife, Columba, for the first time.
“Lightning struck,” Bush said. “I kid you not. I met the girl of my dreams.”
After 42 years of marriage, Bush emphasized his understanding and embrace of Latino culture. He scoffed at suggestions from some that his wife was less American because she was not born in the U.S.
”It is laughable,” Bush said. “It is so sad that people don’t have any sense of what the immigration experience is about.”
Trump has repeatedly made digs at Bush and his family’s Latino culture. He has suggested on Twitter that Bush cared about immigration only because of his Mexican-born wife. He berated Bush for speaking “Mexican” during a campaign stop.
Bush cautioned Monday that Latino voters should not judge the Republican Party only by “the louder voices.”
It’s time, Bush said, for voters to stand up against candidates who “play the game of striking fear in people’s hearts,” whether they be Democrats or Republicans. That, he argued, was a strategy employed by President Obama.
“It is not when we divide people and call people idiots or call people not successful, it is when we embrace the American experience to the fullest that this country takes off,” Bush said.
For Bush, pushing the party to the center on something as contentious as immigration could hurt him in the primary elections. But, in the long run, he may be one of the only Republicans setting himself up for a competitive general election.