Every Republican presidential hopeful knows the GOP has a major problem attracting minority voters — and it looks like Jeb Bush just might think he's the guy to fix it.
Yes, the former Florida governor, brother of George W. Bush, and son of George H.W. Bush appears to have decided he'll be the one to strip his party of the "party of old white men" label. Don't believe it? Just check out the website for his newly announced leadership PAC, Right to Rise.
The launch of the PAC is the clearest sign yet that Bush will jump into the 2016 race — and a study of RighttoRisePac.org reveals some major hints about what he'll do to distinguish himself if he does run: embrace groups his party has long struggled to engage, including African-American and Hispanic voters. In fact, the content and tone of the site suggest that he's already — very subtly, but very deliberately — working to court them.
As Politico's Katie Glueck and Tarini Parti pointed out, the GOP is not big on identity politics. So we can trust that none of the possible 2016 candidates — not African-American Ben Carson or Indian-American Bobby Jindal — are going to play up their race or ethnicity. Instead of talking about breaking barriers or explaining how they'll benefit a particular demographic group, chances are, they'll probably "hit broader themes such as the American dream and the importance of hard work."
In other words, in today's Republican party, a white guy like Jeb Bush has just as good a chance as anyone at being 2016's "diversity candidate." And if his new PAC's website is any indication, he knows that and plans to go for it.
Here's what stands out at Righttorisepac.org:
He comes right out and says he's committed to getting people of color to vote Republican
"We will not cede an inch of territory — no issues, no demographic groups, no voters — as we unite our citizens to strengthen America through greater economic growth and widespread prosperity," reads a statement under the Right to Rise's "What we believe" tab. Key words: "no demographic group." We all know which ones Republicans have historically struggled to impress. Here, Bush isn't saying that they'll vote for the GOP if they know what's good for them, or whining that blacks have been brainwashed by Democrats, or harnessing racial anxiety to target more of the white vote while alienating people of color. Rather, he's conveying that it's Republicans' responsibility to convince people of every race to vote for them. That's a big commitment — not to mention a much more appealing tone that we're used to from his fellow Republicans.
The site is wallpapered with a rainbow of Americans
When you go to RightToRiseOrg.pac, the first thing you see is a collage of faces, at least 6 or 7 of which appear to be people of color. Sure, that's reading a lot into a random selection of images, but here's the thing: they're not at all random. Anyone who's chosen stock photos knows you have to be very intentional if you want to pull up pictures of people who aren't white. And someone on Bush's team decided to feature black and Latino people for a reason.
He proudly highlights his "welcoming" immigration stance
Bush is a supporter of immigration reform who's at times contrasted himself with the rest of his party on this issue. He's gone back and forth on this a bit, but, as Vox's Andrew Prokop has reported, he's been deliberately using kinder rhetoric about unauthorized immigrants than some other Republicans. In an April 2014 speech, he said that unauthorized immigrants "broke the law, but it's not a felony. It's an act of love ... It shouldn't rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families."
That relative kindness — obviously something that could endear a candidate to Latino voters — is highlighted on the site. Bush not only promotes his book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, but also emphasizes, "We will strive to ... ensure that America is a welcoming society."
You can read it in Spanish
This is another obvious effort to welcome Latino voters, and the giant image of Bush with his Mexican-born wife, Columba, probably doesn't hurt the effort either. All in all, it provides quite the contrast in messaging about inclusion compared to when, in 1988, Vice President George Bush infamously referred to the children of Jeb's children — his grandchildren — as "the little brown ones."
The whole thing has a sympathetic to the poor, reach-for-the-stars theme
Black and Latino Americans are disproportionately represented among America's poor, and the PAC's very name, "Right to Rise," hints at a promise of opportunity for them. It's a phrase that replaces more typical GOP "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" messaging — a contributor to the minority-alienating "empathy gap" — with a more hopeful tone.
On Twitter, shortly after the website launched, McCain National Hispanic Chair, Anna Navarro, pointed out that "Right to Rise" was a cornerstone of Lincoln's philosophy. Of course, it's not unusual for Republicans to align themselves with him, and Bush actually credits Paul Ryan, not the former president, for the phrase. Still, the choice of words — and their association with opposition to slavery — could represent another subtle effort to appeal to groups whose American experience has been characterized by discrimination and less than full participation.
Further, Right to Rise's "What we believe" statement reads, "Too many of the poor have lost hope that a path to a better life is within their grasp." Compare that, for example, to the too-bad-for-you-if-you-haven't-succeeded theme of the upcoming South Carolina Tea Party Coalition: "The American Dream, an opportunity, not an entitlement." It's not hard to see how Bush is taking the opportunity to distinguish himself from other conservatives with a message about opportunity that talks to (not just about), poor people, people of color included. The PAC's logo — literally an image of a hand reaching for a star — foregoes traditionally patriotic imagery (no eagles, no waving American flags), to emphasize this message.
Of course, there's a legitimate debate to be had about whether rhetoric and optics can make a big difference when it comes to how members of racial minority groups vote, if these things aren't accompanied by more progressive policy positions. But Bush has clearly decided that tone matters and made an effort to inspire instead of alienate.