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Could Jeb Bush's "Plan Latino" Lead Him to the White House?

Could Jeb Bush's "Plan Latino" Lead Him to the White House? Nightmare Scenario

by Bill Berkowitz,
for Buzzflash at Truthout

Jeb Bush is politically and media savvy, ambitious, engaging, has an established resume as a winner, and is plugged in to the top echelons of the Republican Party establishment. He is bilingual and he's married to a Mexican-born woman. He is also smart enough to know that the Bush brand is not quite ready for another prime time run at the presidency. So the man, who as governor of Florida helped give the world George W. Bush's presidency, is staking out what he is calling the "center-right" within the GOP: kinder, gentler, but still extremely conservative. If his newly formed Hispanic Leadership Network succeeds in wooing Latino voters, Bush the Ambitious could very well make a run for the presidency in 2016 (A Jeb Bush/Hillary Clinton match-up?).

With ample financial backing from former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman's American Action Network (AAN), Bush has founded the Hispanic Leadership Network, an organization that aims to convince Latino voters that the Party will welcome them with open arms.

Coleman's outfit "funneled more than $30 million in campaign funds to Republicans in about 30 congressional races last year," the Associated Press reported. (For more on Coleman's AAN, see "Norm Coleman's Calculated and Cunning Comeback.")



While the Republican Party's leadership is concerned that support from Latino voters has dropped dramatically, that hasn't stopped GOP legislators from continuing to mouth anti-immigrant rhetoric and push anti-immigrant initiatives. The recent blockage of the passage of the Dream Act in Congress, and GOP legislators' advocacy of a Supreme Court review of the 14th Amendment - which confers citizenship to anyone born in the country, including the children of illegal immigrants - are just two examples of why Latinos have been deserting the party.

Bush's Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN) may be new, but it appears to be pushing an old GOP mantra regarding Latino voters: that they are conservative family-oriented folk that should support the party's conservative agenda. The group, which held its inaugural gathering on Jan. 13 and 14 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida, essentially aims to convince Hispanic voters that the Republican Party is a natural fit for what Bush describes as the Latino community's center-right values.

Despite the hopeful words, there is one gigantic elephant in the room: immigration.

"It's about more than running ads in the Spanish-language media," said Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish and is currently now a senior adviser at Barclays Plc. "It's also about showing people you want them to be part of the effort, putting in the time even when people aren't looking ... it means using rhetoric that doesn't turn people off."

In a piece written for The Miami Herald - and posted at the American Action Network website - titled "Conservative Movement Must Commit to a Long-Term Outreach Strategy," Bush, who was governor of Florida from 1999-2007, maintained that the HLN was "an ongoing effort to engage members of the Hispanic community on center-right principles and to create a forum for sharing ideas and experiences. "

Bush pointed out that "The unprecedented success of Hispanic center-right candidates in this past election is a clear sign that now is the time to recommit to a serious outreach effort." However, Bush noted, "Despite this success among candidates, conservatives continue to get unacceptably low support among Hispanic voters nationally. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, only 38 percent of Hispanics voted Republican in the 2010 congressional elections. In fact, center-right candidates have failed to win more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally since 2004. While the reason for such low numbers is debatable, the way to turn them around is clear: a long-term commitment to outreach and better articulation of our values by conservative leaders. I don't think 40 percent of the Hispanic vote can be our ceiling if we plan to impact our nation in the coming decades."

For Bush and the HLN, a center-right agenda "means keeping taxes low and easing the regulatory burden on small businesses to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and job growth. ... instituting real education reforms that reward outstanding teachers and empower parents with choices if their children are trapped in a failing school. ... [and providing] opportunity for those willing to work hard."

The co-chair of the HLN is former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

No matter how much Bush's center-right economic and education agenda may be of interest to some in Latino communities, the elephant in the room is the issue of immigration. Bloomberg.com reported that, "In April, [Bush] urged Congress to take up a comprehensive revision of immigration laws, a proposal opposed by Republican congressional leaders. Seven months later, at a National League of Cities convention in Denver, Bush said he opposed an Arizona law requiring police to check the citizenship of suspected illegal immigrants, saying that if his own children walked the streets of Phoenix they might look suspicious to police. Jeb and wife Columba Bush have three grown children."

"The debate about immigration has been radicalized and made into this anti-Latino, anti-Hispanic campaign," Manuel Pastor, a professor of geography and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, told Bloomberg. "Those kinds of statements really strike a chord that's much deeper in the Latino community than some Republicans have realized."

Although anti-immigrant sentiment is firmly embedded within the GOP, there is also a growing acknowledgment, however belated, that Republican Party candidates need to up their total of Hispanic voters, especially in swing states such as Nevada, Colorado and Florida, where the Latino population is growing. The GOP doesn't have to win the majority of Latino voters in these and other states, but they need to win enough "to chip away at Hispanics' overall 2-1 preference for Democrats," AP pointed out.

The Hispanic Leadership Network isn't the only conservative group trying to court Latinos. Newt Gingrich, a possible 2012 presidential candidate, recently formed The Americano, a bilingual site that is a part of Gingrich Communications. According to The Americano website, "It looks to offer a more balanced view on all the issues that concern American Hispanics today, while celebrating the richness of Hispanic Heritage. It is a place where people can express themselves and read about similar traditional principles."

The site also points out that it "is inclusive of all americanos that have come to live to the United States. Whether you are first, second, third or fourth generation Hispanic - or whether you speak English or Spanish or both - our content is catered to what unites us all which is our American Hispanic Heritage."

(Interestingly enough, at the VDARE website, Matthew Richer, the former American Editor of Right NOW magazine, has written a stinging criticism of Gingrich's latest outreach efforts to Hispanics - http://www.vdare.com/richer/101207_gingrich.htm.)

Alfonso Aguilar, former President George W. Bush's first citizenship and immigration czar, is the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, an initiative of the American Principles Project. Launched in February of 2010, the organization "promotes conservative values and ideals within the Latino community and works to integrate Latinos into fuller and more active participation and leadership in the conservative movement."

According to its website, the APP, founded by Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, is a 501(c)(3) organization "dedicated to preserving and propagating the fundamental principles on which our country was founded - universal principles, embracing the notion that we are all, 'created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"

App's Chairman is Sean Fieler, president of the Williams Catholic Network and a board member of the Witherspoon Institute, Institute for American Values, and the Dominican Foundation. Its Board of Directors include Ellen Barosse, founder and CEO of Synchrogenix Information Strategies, Luis E. Tellez, President and Founder of The Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organization for Marriage and the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy.

Jeb Bush's Plan Latino, aka the Hispanic Leadership Network, may not immediately change the electoral playing field. To be successful he has to deal with and somehow moderate the anti-immigrant faction within the Republican Party. That, however, will not be an easy task.

*************

Berkowitz is a freelance writer and longtime observer of the conservative movement who documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right. In addition to BuzzFlash, his work -- which has been cited in a number of books -- has appeared in Alternet, Inter Press Service, The Nation, Religion Dispatches, Z Magazine, and numerous other online and print publications.

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