Latino Vote 2012: Why Republicans Need to Listen to Jeb Bush and Embrace Hispanics

Even if Team Romney/Ryan win the election on November 6th, the Republican Party must do some major work to build inroads into the fastest growing demographic in America: the Latino population. And no one has been more emphatic about the importance of this effort than former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Bush governed over the Sunshine State from 1999 to 2007, a period that included the state’s fastest period of population growth (2005) and includes a sizable Latino population. Today, more than 17% of eligible Floridian voters are Latino, compared to 9% of eligible voters nationwide. He has always understood that the Latino vote was essential to not just winning Florida, but to ensure he was able to manage issues as a leader and governor.

Back in August, in advance of his speech at the RNC, former Governor Bush frequently spoke to the press about the urgent need for Republicans to engage Latinos, recognize their priorities and speak to their needs. Arguing “to reach a wider audience, the Republican Party needs to change its “tone of message” in the long term,” Bush pointed out that while Republicans do not need to change their policies but must begin to frame them better. Later, using education as an example, Bush, in his speech to the RNC made the Republican case for school choice by saying, “we must stop pre-judging children based on their race, ethnicity or household income … stop excusing failure in our schools and start rewarding improvement and success — we must have high academic standards that are benchmarked to the best in the world.” And while most Republicans argue that education is a state issue, Latinos (and they are not alone) need to hear that their national leaders set an example. The governor’s message was — and is — a call to raise the bar and set high standards for every American. No exception.

Latinos are, by and large, immigrants or direct descendants of immigrants and during the Republican Caucuses and Primaries, the candidates were stepping over themselves to make their case that their “wall” would be higher; that their “fence” would be more impenetrable that the others — hardly a message of tolerance and acceptance.  And, while they were talking about illegal immigrants, a message of intolerance was heard by many legal immigrants. 

America is a land of immigrants, and immigrants are essential for a strong economy. In fact, an article in Inc.com last month noted that over half of all Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrants. These should be Republican voters. But by and large, they are not. 

Bush has not stopped talking about this issue since the convention. In fact, last month he noted that Republicans run the risk of losing Texas to Democrats if they don’t do something soon about bringing more Latinos into their tent. And losing Texas would be the kiss of death for Republicans. The Electoral College math would make it close to impossible for Republicans to ever win the White House again.

Win or lose on November 6th, Republicans must begin to value the Latino vote. They need to work with organizations like the Hispanic Leadership Network (Co-Chaired by Gov. Jeb Bush).  And Romney would do well by changing the “tone of his message” in either his victory —or consolation — speech.