Republicans voters are getting two very different visions of Latino outreach this month in Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The dueling White House contenders occupy the top two Republican spots in several recent polls of potential primary-goers. Trump surged to his position riding an endless cycle of outrage and backlash that began in June when he alleged that undocumented immigrants were primarily criminals and “rapists” forced across the border by a conspiring Mexican government. Bush, by contrast, has calmly shored up his own front-runner position while promising an aggressive effort to attract Latino support.
In a series of campaign events and interviews this week, Bush offered up the most vivid preview yet of what he might bring to the table in a general election on this front.
Sitting down with MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart for a Spanish-language interview, Bush said he was personally “hurt” by Trump’s rhetoric. "In a political sense it was bad, and it creates an environment that is worse," Bush added.
At every turn, Bush played up his own roots. His wife, Columba, was born in Mexico, and Bush even recounted consoling his son, George P. Bush, after he was harassed at a baseball game over his ethnic background.
“It was a good lesson to remember that we still don’t have a country of complete justice,” Jeb Bush said.
Earlier this year, Bush came in for some mockery after The New York Times dug up a voter form in which he had marked his own ethnicity as “Latino." Bush may not go that far, but he is making an explicit case that his ties to Latino culture run deep and are an integral part of his identity.
“My children are Hispanic in many aspects,” he said on MSNBC. “We don't talk about it, but the Hispanic influence is an important part of my life."
On Monday, Bush put on his pundit hat and argued that his life story would translate into actual Latino votes come November 2016.
“I have a secret weapon, Columba Bush, I have Hispanic children, I have Hispanic grandchildren, I’m part of the community, so I think there’s a way to campaign and there’s a record that I have that … when people see it and hear it is, I think it’s going to be OK,” Bush told reporters. “I cannot imagine having the same kind of numbers that Republican candidates have had in past presidential elections. I’m pretty confident that we can do better.”
The thorny politics of immigration are still a problem, and Bush is carefully trying to balance concerns from hardliners and reformers alike without losing either group. Bush has abandoned a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and criticized Obama’s executive orders protecting migrants from deportation, but he has also gone further than his rivals in emphasizing the importance of legalizing many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in America today.
There’s always the fear the Trumps of the world will poison the GOP brand to the point it doesn’t matter who the nominee is or what they say (Trump, for his part, thinks he'll win the Latino vote outright). Some Republicans even argue Latino voters lean too far left on economic issues to swing significantly toward the GOP anytime soon, regardless of what they do.
Whether Bush’s plan works or not, he offers a dramatic new look for Republicans, one that’s even more striking next to Trump’s base-pleasing populism. Expect this difference to surface in a major way next week when the two take the stage together at the first primary debate.