Bush recently led a Hispanic Leadership Network board meeting in Florida, part of the GOP’s larger effort to connect with minorities.
Republican leaders and strategists have wracked their brains since President Barack Obama’s re-election to reckon how the party can broaden its appeal to minorities.
They have yet to figure it out, but they’re working on it — and furiously. Some of the same conversations took place after the 2008 elections, but as Obama is inaugurated for a second term and the party’s base in presidential election cycles continues to shrink as a proportion of the electorate, it’s become abundantly clear to GOP leaders that a new winning formula is necessary.
“When you do the math, it’s a very narrow path to victory in a presidential year without significant improvement among Hispanics,” Republican pollster Glen Bolger said.
In recent days, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus attended a minority outreach summit in Texas and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush led a Hispanic Leadership Network board meeting in the Sunshine State. Their goal: expand the GOP’s base and potential for swing votes, especially among Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, has in the past week begun a push for sweeping immigration overhaul legislation. The Florida Republican laid out the key points of his plan in an interview with The Wall Street Journal editorial board, calling immigration a “gateway issue” for Hispanics.
In interviews with GOP strategists and Capitol Hill sources, there was a consensus that vastly improving the party’s relationship with Hispanics — and minorities as a whole — likely entails a combination of an immigration overhaul and an alteration of the rhetorical tone Republicans use when discussing the issue.
“There are conversations going on all over town and all over the country among Republicans about how to address a changing electorate,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who conducted a postelection poll of Hispanics in four states that found the GOP brand toxic. “It’s not just Hispanics, but Hispanics are obviously the largest and fastest-growing group, particularly in critical swing states.”
Terry Nelson, who served as national political director for President George W. Bush in 2004, when the Republican won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, said there are certainly mixed feelings within the party on what must be done on immigration, but the dialogue over the past several years has clearly alienated Hispanic voters.
“I think that the Republican Party and political leaders have to think about how we have a constructive immigration policy for the millions of people who are here illegally, how we have a constructive immigration policy for those who want to come here and work, and how we talk about it in a more constructive way,” Nelson said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.