As Republicans reassess their future in the presidential wilderness, seeking a message and messenger to resonate with a new generation of voters, one unlikely name has popped up as a role model: former President George W. Bush.
Prominent Republicans eager to rebuild the party in the wake of the 2012 election are pointing to Bush’s successful campaigns for Hispanic votes, his efforts to pass immigration reform, and his mantra of “compassionate conservatism.” Bush won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and at least 40 percent in 2004, a high-water mark for a Republican presidential candidate.
In contrast, Romney received only 27 percent of the Latino vote, after taking a hard-line approach to illegal immigration during the Republican presidential primaries, touting “self-deportation” for undocumented workers. In exit polls, a majority of voters said that Romney was out of touch with the American people and that his policies would favor the rich. While Romney beat Obama on questions of leadership, values, and vision, the president trounced him by 63 points when voters were asked which candidate “cares about people like me.”
These signs of wear and tear to the Republican brand are prompting some of Bush’s critics to acknowledge his political foresight and ability to connect with a diverse swath of Americans, although the economic crash and unpopular wars on his watch make it unlikely he will ever be held up as a great president.
“I think I owe an apology to George W. Bush,” wrote Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large of the conservative National Review Online, after the election. “I still don't like compassionate conservatism or its conception of the role of government. But given the election results, I have to acknowledge that Bush was more prescient than I appreciated at the time.”
The ebb in Bush-bashing could help pave the way for a 2016 presidential bid by his brother, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, another proponent of immigration reform with proven appeal in the Hispanic community. “The Bush family knows how to expand the party and how to win,” said GOP consultant Mark McKinnon, a former George W. Bush political aide, when asked about a possible Jeb Bush campaign. Voter wariness toward a third Bush administration could ease if the former president and his father, who served one term, are remembered less for their failures and more for their advocacy of “compassionate conservatism” and “a kinder, gentler nation.”Northfoto / Shutterstock.com)