Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will have to work up a more convincing message on immigration if he wants to win any votes among the Hispanic electorate in November, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said.
Without hiding his frustration at his party’s unyielding attitude, Bush made it clear Monday, at an event organized by Bloomberg View in New York, that Romney needs to change what he says about immigration.
“Don’t just talk about Hispanics and say immediately we must have controlled borders. Change the tone would be the first thing. Second, on immigration, I think we need to have a broader approach,” Bush said in summing up his advice.
The son of President George H.W. Bush and younger brother of President George W. Bush suggested that Ronald Reagan, who promoted an amnesty that legalized 3 million undocumented immigrants in 1986, would not agree with the immovable orthodoxy of today’s Republican Party.
If Reagan were alive he would seek “some degree of common ground” with Democrats to find solutions and would not fan the flames of hostility so that cooperation becomes impossible, Jeb Bush said.
He said that his father and Reagan “got a lot of things done with bipartisan support, but right now it’s just difficult to imagine.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, Bush believes, “needs to broaden the message out when talking about immigration, to make it an economic issue as much as it is a question of the rule of law.”
“Have a broader message and have a more intense message,” the man who governed Florida from 1999-2007 said.
Wise counsel from one ex-governor to another, for even though Hispanics are sorely disappointed that President Barack Obama did not fulfill his 2008 promise to promote immigration reform, they have even less enthusiasm for Romney. Obama won in 2008 with 67 percent of Hispanic support, compared with 31 percent for his Republican rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
McCain lost the Hispanics from the time he changed his tune and, instead of supporting immigration reform - as he had done together with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy - he began to demand an “iron fist” against the undocumented.
The road to the White House depends on getting at least 40 percent support from the close to 12.2 million Hispanics who will go to the polls in November.
According to Bush, if he had to rate the Republicans’ approach to the Hispanic community, he would say it “needs improvement.”
During the primaries, Romney always sought to appease the most conservative element of his party with a hard-line message about the urgent need to safeguard border security and encourage the “self-deportation” of the undocumented.
For now, official statistics show a drop in arrests on the border with Mexico, together with a decline in attempts to cross into the United States.
Several Republican leaders in the border state of Texas have come to the same conclusion as Jeb Bush about the need to lower the fiery tone of his party’s immigration rhetoric.
Well aware they are inciting anger among their party’s right wing, these leaders nonetheless approved last week a political platform for the state Republican Party that includes a guest-worker program and measures for boosting border security.
Scarcely two years ago these same leaders approved a platform that stripped the undocumented of preventive health care, imposed sanctions on anyone who hired them and eradicated employment centers for day laborers.
But now, with the electoral race fully underway, Republicans are slowly waking up to the fact that they need the Hispanic vote to achieve their political goals.
It remains to be seen whether Romney will heed the advice offered him by Jeb Bush, who, in any case, is part of the candidate’s Hispanic steering committee, Juntos con Romney.
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