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Republican Mitt Romney will need a “broader” message on immigration to appeal to Hispanic voters who have turned toward Democrats in presidential and other elections, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said today.
“He 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,” Bush said at a breakfast with Bloomberg View in New York. “Have a broader message and have a more intense message.”
The Republican Party’s primary elections, in which the candidates’ debate about immigration centered on tougher border control rather than finding a way to accommodate millions of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., has left the party with a challenge ahead of November’s elections, Bush said.
“There is work to do,” said Bush, asked about the party’s overall standing with Hispanic voters -- who supported President Barack Obama in 2008 over Republican John McCain by 67 percent to 31 percent. “I’d say that, if an objective teacher was grading where we are right now, I’d say ‘needs improvement’ -- hopefully not an unfinished grade.”
The debates focused on the borders, he said, “particularly where you’re in crowds that are quite anxious that we’ve not been able to secure our border -- legitimately so, just for the record here,” he said. “Great countries should be able to control their borders, plain and simple, and we haven’t done it to the extent that we should, although there has been significant improvement in the last seven, eight years -- also because we’ve had a lot fewer people trying to cross the border, because our economy stinks.”
“The focus has been on that in these debates, and Governor Romney has used this as a means to connect with a group of voters that were quite angry, and it was effective,” Bush said. “But now he’s in this, somewhat of a box. So I think the broader message is how you get out of it.”
Bush, 59, who served two terms as Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007, is a brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush. The family celebrated the father’s 88th birthday at Kennebunkport, Maine, over the weekend, Jeb Bush said -- citing a “drive-by” of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush near the waterfront home.
Bush refrained from endorsing any of his party’s candidates for president before Florida’s primary on Jan. 31, and since has endorsed Romney. Bush, who repeatedly has said he will not be Romney’s running mate, also said recently that he missed his own “opportunity” to run for president this year.
The political environment in Washington has veered so far from any spirit of compromise, Bush said, that figures such as his father -- and even Ronald Reagan -- would find it more difficult campaigning for their party’s nomination today.
“They got a lot of things done with bipartisan support, but right now it’s just difficult to imagine,” Bush said.
“Context changes; history changes,” he said. “Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, similar to my dad, they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party -- and I don’t -- as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement,” he said. “We’re in a political system in general that is in a very different place right now.”
Looking at governors today, Bush said Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels “‘in terms of temperament and principle, principled leadership, is probably the best governor today.’’
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ‘‘is fantastic, and underneath the surface things get done, and he’s willing to cut a deal, if it makes sense to advance his agenda,’’ Bush added. ‘‘Now it’s Jersey style.’’
Asked about Senator Marco Rubio of Florida as a running mate for Romney, Bush hailed him as more experienced than Obama was at this stage in his career.
The former state House speaker from Miami ‘‘is more mature than his age, more experienced than you would believe, more articulate than, I believe, President Obama -- without a teleprompter,’’ Bush said. ‘‘He would bring energy to a campaign that could always use it. He’s the real deal.’’
Bush also criticized Obama for placing political gain ahead of negotiation in Washington -- citing the failure of the president’s task force on debt and spending led by former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton.
‘‘If he was a transcendent figure, which is what he ran as, I think he’s failed,” Bush said of Obama.
The president “had a chance” to address the long-term deficit with the remedy that Simpson and Bowles recommended, a package of taxes and spending cuts, he said, but didn’t “for political reasons.”
“It was purely a political calculation,” he said. “He created Simpson-Bowles and then abandoned it at birth.”
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