Can Jeb Bush Help the GOP Win Minority Voters?

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush poses for a photograph with Katie Wong during a tailgate party before an NCAA college football game between Georgia and South Carolina, Sept. 19, 2015, in Athens, Ga.PlayJohn Bazemore/AP Photo
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It was a rare streak of anger for the normally even-keeled Jeb Bush.

"I'll campaign in the African American community...I'm going to campaign in Latino communities and, yes Mr. Trump, if I'm asked a question in Spanish I might answer in Spanish. I apologize. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," Bush told a Salem, NH crowd.

In the last few weeks, Bush has come under fire from frontrunner Donald Trump for speaking Spanish at events.

Bush's response? To speak more of the language he's been speaking for 40 years.

"So here I am, a candidate for the President of the United States, believing that we should campaign with brazos abiertos, with our arms wide open," he told a New Hampshire crowd.

But some experts say that Bush's dream of inclusivity may be just that; a dream... that statistically, Bush and his party have almost no chance of winning voters of color, en masse.

The Republican Party and Voters of Color

"It’s virtually impossible to see the Republican Party running competitively among blacks in the 2016 presidential election," said Gary Langer, President of Langer Research Associates (the company that produces ABC News/Washington Post polls). He added that, it would be "a steep challenge for the GOP nominee to do well among Hispanics."

But this election cycle, the Republican field also bears a striking departure from its usual candidates; diversity. This field includes one African-American, an Indian-American, two men of Cuban descent, and a man who is married to a Mexican woman. Especially, when compared to the more homogenous Democratic field, it seems significant. But, for a party that has long had a troubled relationship with voters of color, it may not be enough.

"When you talk about racial makeup, you only see skin diversity. When you talk about ideals, you see that the concepts they're pushing are not diverse, some of the same old, same old. When you dig deeper, these policies actually hurt communities of color," said Angela Rye, a political strategist who is a former executive director for the Congressional Black Caucus and is CEO of Impact Strategies.

No more than 27 percent of non-white voters have voted for a Republican candidate in any presidential election since 1976. In the 2012 general election, Mitt Romney received less than 20 percent of all nonwhites' votes. If a Republican candidate continued that trend today, he/she would need more than 65 percent of the entire white-vote to be able to win the presidency.

Diversity Within Bush's Life

Bush believes that his candidacy could capture these coveted voting blocs. Voters of color now represent nearly 40 percent of the entire constituency.

Diversity is a spirit Bush has embodied within his campaign and throughout life. His marriage to Mexican-born Columba Garnica de Gallo, their three Mexican-American children, his roots in Miami all highlight his fluidity at passing between two worlds; the wealthy, WASPy world he was born into, and this multi-cultural world he's in now.

He campaigns the way he lives -- visiting bilingual schools in Miami, was one of only two Republicans (Ben Carson was the other) to speak at the National Urban League conference, and held a mostly Hispanic roundtable in Las Vegas.

"You have to go campaign in places where they haven’t seen a Republican in a long time, " he told the Salem crowd.

In 2008 and 2012, the Republican party saw one of their toughest defeats ever among minority voters. Some of that could be attributed to the historic nature of the election, the first President of color ever to be elected and serve two terms.

Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., a prominent black pastor in Tallahassee, cast one of those votes. "Obama has the credentials, the background, and I felt he was better than anyone out there," he said.

Now, Holmes is supporting a man he refers to as "my good friend"; his former Governor, Jeb Bush. Holmes was heard passionately advocating for Bush at Bush's official announcement for the Presidency in Miami. He says that he looks for the best leader who's going to help communities of color and adds that party is not a factor.

"To be party-oriented makes you a non-visionary, it boxes you in," Holmes said, a registered Independent.

He says he's had discussions with Bush and is looking forward to enjoying a more active role in campaigning with him.

But the Bush campaign says it's going much further than discussions.

"There isn't a candidate out there that can do what he can do," says Jose Mallea, Senior Adviser for National Hispanic Engagement.

In part he's referring to the basics -- speaking the language of the fastest growing group. Bush, of course, speaks fluent Spanish and relishes the opportunity to speak it well...and often.

"Spanish isn't just like he learned it because it was good for business. This is his life," Mallea said.

But he says their outreach is much more substantive than a few, well-said phrases. Already, the campaign has focused on Latino communities. Last week, he had a campaign event in Miami at a bilingual school, La Progresiva, where he surprised high-schoolers with his mastery of the language.

The campaign will reach out heavily during Hispanic Heritage Month, which began on Sept. 15. The outreach will be replete with new Spanish-language videos focusing on education and small business, the first of which featured Bush speaking in Spanish, while Mrs. Bush spoke in English.

On Monday, Bush spoke in front of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, focusing on small business growth, education, and immigration reform.

"This is a chance to let people know what republicans stand for, show them that it is a message that can be inclusive," Mallea.

But it doesn't seem to be a message that's catching on with some candidates. Trump, as he rises in polls, has consistently made inflammatory comments, perhaps turning away groups the party hopes to welcome.

Some 79 percent of non-whites see Trump unfavorably, including 81 percent of blacks and 82 percent of Hispanics. Initially, the chair of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, expressed concern over Trump's rhetoric.

Now, the RNC is trying to attack the problem head-on.

The RNC's Big Plan

"The premise is that Republicans aren't gaining ground. If Hispanics, African-Americans are only hearing from Democrats, how can we expect to gain support?" asked Jennifer Korn, Deputy Political Director for Strategic Initiatives at the RNC.

Korn says their strategy was informed by their dismal showing among minorities in the 2012 presidential election; this year, the goal was to start early. In June 2013, the RNC went on a hiring spree, hiring Korn, as well as a senior director for Black engagement, and a director of Asian-Pacific Islander engagement as full-time staffers.

"Over a 6 year period, we didn't cultivate those relationships," she lamented to ABC News. Now, she says, she has people heavily invested in the ground-game. Staffers go door-to-door in Latino communities, local chapters in Northern Virginia host backyard fiestas, a black church in Cleveland gets a visit from Priebus, and staffers welcome Asian and Pacific Islander Americans during naturalization ceremonies.

The RNC also partnered with Radio One to start a new African-American geared campaign in Ohio, where the Republican National Convention will take place, called #committedtocommunity.

"We have to be the party that listens to everyone if we're going to be the party to fight for everyone," Priebus said at a church in Cleveland.

Korn admitted that she didn't know if the party would be able to effectively win over voters of color but said "we will definitely be able to make gains."

Rye believes that the ideological differences between the Republican party and people of color are too deep to ever gain significant ground. She asserts that, when it comes to issues that she says matter most to communities of color, issues like affordable health care, income inequality, criminal justice reform, the party can never win over minority voters.

"If they continue as anti-minimum wage, anti-immigration, all of that demonstrates that they're out of touch," she says.

Langer's research agrees.

"Racial and ethnic minorities tend to favor government programs designed to address inequality, expand opportunity and assist those in need – all generally in line with Democratic principles - while whites are more apt to view government programs skeptically, and to look to the private sector and individual self-initiative to expand opportunity and address social ills" Langer said.

Holmes says that Bush's tenure as governor debunks many of those conventions.

"He has a record, appointed more African Americans in his cabinet than any other governor, restored FAMU college of Law (a historically black university), " Holmes said. He did later note, however, that he did not agree with Bush's decision to end affirmative action in the state.

Voters of Color Are...Well...Diverse

Rye does applaud candidates like Bush for some diversity of ideas but she cautions that people of color are not to be treated monolithically.

"Diversity is key, it is a great first step but you need diversity in senior staffs to really change how a campaign does many black people does he have working on his campaign? How many Asian-Americans does he have working on his campaign?"

The Bush campaign has many Hispanic-Americans on its senior staff, including Mallea and campaign manager Danny Diaz and just hired Charles Badger as Director of Coalitions. Badger (the campaign declined to make him available for an interview) will focus on this very topic; outreach to various groups within the party. The campaign declined to release information on other groups represented within its staff, though it seems as though Hispanics are the most represented from all minority groups.

Still, when compared to other campaigns, Bush seems among the most committed to spreading the conservative message to people of all colors. It is a plan not guaranteed to work and that runs the risk of distancing himself from the usual conservative base, especially in majority-white early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Advisors say that, in the wake of Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric leading to a rise in his popularity, they, at one point, reconsidered their strategy of so openly courting Hispanic voters...eventually deciding to stick with the plan.

"They might not be the most popular but they are the most clear," Mallea said. "He's not going to change his point of view based on a poll or an attempt to win an election..would rather lose an election than change his views."

"Here’s what I believe," Bush told a crowd in Hampton, NH. "I believe that everybody is a conservative, they just don’t know it yet and the idea is to go and persuade them."