Jeb Bush Is Selling Himself as the GOP’s Working-Class Savior. He’s Not Alone.

The former Florida governor is pitching D.C. insiders on a way to retool the GOP’s image after 2012, but he’s got some competition.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hands out food to those in need outside the Little Havana offices of CAMACOL, the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, on Dec. 17 in Miami.
National Journal
Lauren Fox
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Lauren Fox
Jan. 20, 2015, 3 p.m.

In two hour-long meet­ings with 80 CEOs, lob­by­ists, and top donors in Wash­ing­ton on Tues­day, former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush urged his party to re­con­nect with work­ing-class voters and make in­roads with the Latino com­munity. Then he made his pitch: He’s the man best po­si­tioned to do it in 2016.

“He made it clear that there are les­sons to learn from 2008 and 2012,” said one per­son who was in the room and asked not to be named in or­der to speak more frankly. “He was say­ing this cam­paign needs to reach out and bey­ond its nor­mal demo­graph­ic and core con­stitu­ency.”

In the meet­ings, Bush tried to con­vince lead­ers with­in the GOP donor class that while he has the con­ser­vat­ive prin­ciples needed to be com­pet­it­ive in a primary, he also has what it takes to con­nect with the Latino com­munity, a group he has long been con­nec­ted with both be­cause of his time in Flor­ida polit­ics and be­cause of his wife, Columba, who was born in Mex­ico.

“I think it is fair to say people left quite im­pressed by the mes­sage and the man,” an­oth­er at­tendee said. “It was a big-tent mes­sage. It was heart­felt and not a re­cently reached view­point. “

Bush fo­cused on how the Re­pub­lic­an Party could res­on­ate bet­ter with those who, des­pite a re­cov­er­ing eco­nomy, have been left be­hind. He en­cour­aged the party to find a pos­it­ive and con­struct­ive tone in the months ahead.

His mes­sage re­flects a broad­er shift hap­pen­ing with­in the GOP. If the Re­pub­lic­an Party made the 2012 elec­tion about busi­ness cre­at­ors, sev­er­al po­ten­tial 2016 con­tenders want to push their im­age to­ward nine-to-five work­ers try­ing to make ends meet. Even former Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, who was painted as an out-of-touch cor­por­ate ty­coon with a car el­ev­at­or dur­ing his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign in 2012, has sought to shift his own 47-per­cent-tinged nar­rat­ive as he eyes a third White House run.

Rom­ney made his case Fri­day in San Diego be­fore the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee that it was time for the party to fo­cus on fix­ing the poverty that Pres­id­ent Obama’s policies have been un­able to cor­rect.

“The only policies that will reach in­to the hearts of the Amer­ic­an people and pull people out of poverty and break the cycle of poverty are Re­pub­lic­an prin­ciples,” Rom­ney said, ac­cord­ing to Politico.

It’s not just Rom­ney and Bush at­tempt­ing to pro­mote a pos­it­ive mes­sage of up­ward mo­bil­ity. Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida, the son of Cuban im­mig­rants, has made the Amer­ic­an Dream a corner­stone of his nar­rat­ive as a law­maker, nev­er miss­ing an op­por­tun­ity to ar­gue why his policies can help the work­ing poor suc­ceed. Re­pub­lic­an Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er has tried to make his long feud with uni­ons an ex­ample of how in­ves­ted he is in the Amer­ic­an work­er.

Bush’s meet­ings Tues­day, while not ex­pli­cit fun­drais­ing pitches, were in­ten­ded to shore up some of the es­tab­lish­ment sup­port that may be look­ing at a slew of al­tern­at­ive can­did­ates, from Rom­ney to Walk­er to New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie. While Bush might have made a strong im­pres­sion with a smart open­ing ar­gu­ment, he still has a long way to go be­fore the GOP picks its horse.

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