When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addresses the Republican convention on Thursday, he will represent a bridge between his party’s past and its future.
He will always be the son and brother of presidents rarely hailed as GOP icons. George H.W. Bush’s accomplishments are downgraded by his failure to win a second term, while George W. Bush’s legacy is one of protracted wars, increased debt, and economic crisis.
That is the past.
But Jeb Bush is also known for his outstretched arm to the Hispanic community and his discomfort with the inflammatory rhetoric that often accompanies the immigration debate. He has done the math that 50,000 Hispanic citizens become eligible to vote every month.
That is the future.
“If Bill Clinton is the first black president, then I’m definitely the first Cuban—or Latino—governor of Florida,” quipped the bilingual Miami resident, who is married to a Mexican-American, at a luncheon sponsored by the Hispanic Leadership Network. (Actually, the first and only Hispanic governor of Florida was Bob Martinez.)
Imagine, as did many of the Hispanic Republicans who gathered at a Tampa hotel to see Bush on Tuesday, if he were at the top of the ticket in 2012. Mitt Romney, with his hard-line stance against illegal immigration, is on track to attract less Latino support than any GOP nominee since Bob Dole. Such an abysmal showing jeopardizes a number of pivotal states.
In another sign of Bush’s past-as-prologue position in the party, his son spoke at the luncheon about the importance of Hispanic outreach, particularly in states the GOP considers reliable. “Can you imagine Texas being a blue state in a decade? What does that do for our electoral map,” asked Jeb Bush Jr., who leads a Hispanic advocacy group called SunPAC.
His father has passed up repeated appeals to run for president; meanwhile, one of his home-state protégés—Sen. Marco Rubio—has risen to the top tier of the GOP. Rubio will also take the stage in Tampa on Thursday, but his prime-time speech introducing Romney is much higher profile than Bush’s, within the single nightly hour the major networks will cover.
Will Bush fatigue fade? And if Romney were to lose, would there be room for Bush and Rubio to run for president in 2016?
“That’s a conversation they need to have. I’m not going to be the referee,” said American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas, who led the Florida Republican Party under Bush and has also mentored Rubio. “I can tell you this: They’re not going to run against each other.”
Two of the GOP’s other top ambassadors to the Latino community, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, were also tapped to address the convention.
Suggesting that the Romney team is making good on its promise to ramp up Hispanic outreach now that it can tap general-election money, the campaign is spending $576,000 on Spanish-language advertising this week, according to a Democratic media-tracking source. That’s more than half of what it has spent during the entire campaign so far.
“Romney is probably at his lowest point with Hispanics,” Republican consultant Jose Mallea said. “The message is going to get out.”