Will Jeb Bush shape new GOP?

His sup­port­ers hope for a new party, but the old one still holds lots of power

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - CATH­LEEN DECKER cath­leen.decker @latimes.com Twit­ter: @cath­leen­decker For more on Cal­i­for­nia pol­i­tics, go to latimes.com/decker.

The pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who stepped on­stage in Florida on Mon­day was ev­ery­thing, im­age-wise, that el­e­ments of the Repub­li­can Party have been say­ing they needed to have a fight­ing chance long-term in places like Cal­i­for­nia, so much a bas­tion for Democrats that it hasn’t been se­ri­ously con­tested in five na­tional elec­tions.

For­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke flu­ent Span­ish and lauded his Mexico-born wife, Columba; he was pre­ceded on­stage by their son Ge­orge P. Bush, who also ad­dressed the au­di­ence in Span­ish, and a mu­si­cal combo of Latina sis­ters.

The Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., an African Amer­i­can preacher, in­tro­duced Bush with a pas­sion that out­stripped even that of the can­di­date. And state Sen. Don Gaetz called the for­mer gover­nor “the new Florida.”

“He is the new Amer­ica,” Gaetz said. “He is the new Repub­li­can Party.”

There’s no doubt that Bush, as part of a mul­tira­cial, bilin­gual fam­ily, comes closer to the new Florida and new Amer­ica than many other pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Democrats in­cluded. But even he didn’t seem all that con­fi­dent about the rest.

Bush has been some­thing of a quizzi­cal pres­ence in this race — a man knocked as a mod­er­ate by many in his party, de­spite the sharply con­ser­va­tive na­ture of his gov­er­nor­ship. The fact that he out­lined his Florida record so vig­or­ously in his an­nounce­ment sug­gested that if there is a new party, he doesn’t think it’s headed in his di­rec­tion.

Bush’s an­nounce­ment was glo­ri­ously staged; his re­marks de­liv­ered with vigor; his crowd ador­ing. But his re­marks could have been ut­tered by al­most any of the dozen Repub­li­can can­di­dates. What he left out, or in­tended to leave out, spoke loudly.

He in­sisted that he would cam­paign “ev­ery­where, speak­ing to ev­ery­one, keep­ing my word, fac­ing the is­sues with­out flinching and stay­ing true to what I be­lieve.”

That seemed to be code for two is­sues that had flum­moxed him — his sup­port for the Com­mon Core na­tional school stan­dards and for changes in the immigration sys­tem to pro­tect those in the coun­try il­le­gally. Yet he punted a bit.

“Ev­ery school should have high stan­dards, and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should have noth­ing to do with set­ting them,” he said, not ex­plain­ing that he still sup­ports the fed­eral stan­dards.

His only ref­er­ence to immigration came as an ad-lib af­ter he was in­ter­rupted by protesters seek­ing cit­i­zen­ship rights for those in the coun­try il­le­gally.

“By the way, just so our friends know, the next pres­i­dent of the United States will pass mean­ing­ful immigration re­form so that will be solved, not by ex­ec­u­tive or­der,” he said, dis­miss­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s pro­tec­tion of mil­lions of im­mi­grants while at the same time giv­ing fod­der to anti-pro­tec­tion Repub­li­cans.

The fix Bush finds him­self in is this: So much power re­mains in the old Repub­li­can Party that he had to force­fully de­fine him­self as a con­ser­va­tive and skip over prob­lem­atic is­sues. But that left lit­tle — other than the mul­ti­cul­tural vi­su­als — to at­tract peo­ple who might make up the new Repub­li­can Party.

That mat­ters in states like Cal­i­for­nia be­cause, in mod­ern pol­i­tics at least, change comes from the top.

In re­cent elec­tions, two women and one mod­er­ate of In­dian her­itage have been party nom­i­nees for ei­ther gover­nor or U.S. sen­a­tor. Even though they were not the tra­di­tional GOP can­di­dates, they were tripped up by the “R” be­hind their names. What­ever their own can­di­da­cies’ weak­nesses, they also paid for the im­age of their party.

In 2016, Bush and any other Repub­li­can seek­ing non-tra­di­tional vot­ers will have an ad­di­tional prob­lem in Cal­i­for­nia and else­where: the con­flict be­tween the old party’s an­tipa­thy to­ward Obama and the pres­i­dent’s out­sized pop­u­lar­ity among their new tar­gets.

Take healthcare, another sub­ject not men­tioned by Bush on Mon­day. In Cal­i­for­nia, a March poll by the Public Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia found that just over half of the state sup­ported Obama’s healthcare re­form.

But among Lati­nos, sup­port hit 61%. And among Asians, another ascending voter group cov­eted by Repub­li­cans, sup­port was at 58%

So ev­ery Repub­li­can crit­i­cism of Obama’s healthcare plan, or immigration moves, or en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tions — to cite another area of rapt in­ter­est among mi­nor­ity groups — en­er­gizes the old base and risks dis­tanc­ing the vot­ers the party will need in the fu­ture.

In an ad­dress in Irvine on Fri­day night, Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Rand Paul hit on the same no­tion of cre­at­ing “the new GOP.” By his telling, it would be a party that de­fends the en­tirety of the Bill of Rights and not just the 2nd Amend­ment’s pro­tec­tion of guns.

His fo­cus was on do­mes­tic spy­ing as part of the war on terror. Like Bush on Mon­day, he also left out plenty: men­tion of immigration, the en­vi­ron­ment, abor­tion or other top­ics that have formed a di­vide be­tween the par­ties.

“The sky’s the limit! We can win elec­tions in Cal­i­for­nia,” Paul said. “But we have to have some­thing to of­fer, and it can’t be the same old, same old.”

On Mon­day, the vi­su­als of the Bush an­nounce­ment were new; in its mul­ti­cul­tural flair, his ap­pear­ance felt like Mi­ami, or even Los An­ge­les. As for what he said? Pretty much same old, same old.

Lynne Sladky As­so­ci­ated Press

REPUB­LI­CAN PRES­I­DEN­TIAL can­di­date Jeb Bush, right, is em­braced by the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr. as Bush an­nounces his can­di­dacy Mon­day at Mi­ami Dade Col­lege. Bush, who is bilin­gual, comes closer to the new Florida and the new Amer­ica than many can­di­dates.

David Gold­man As­so­ci­ated Press

JEB BUSH’S wife, Columba, left, his mother, Bar­bara, and his son Ge­orge P. Bush, hold­ing grand­son Prescott, were on hand for the an­nounce­ment.

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