ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Wind-whipped Republicans bracing for Tropical Storm Isaac received a mild lashing of a different sort Sunday from one of party’s most revered figures, Jeb Bush, who urged the GOP to change its tone on immigration.
“My personal view is that we need to get beyond where we are,” said the former Florida governor, adding a moment later, “You can’t ask people to join your cause and then send a signal that you’re really not wanted. It just doesn’t work.”
Bush has previously stated his concerns about the party’s hard-line immigration stance and seemed careful on Sunday’s “Meet The Press” to balance his views with a hearty endorsement of nominee-to-be Mitt Romney.
Despite polls showing the former Massachusetts governor badly trailing President Obama among Latinos, Bush said he was convinced Romney could make inroads by focusing on a message of economic growth and job creation.
Bush said that should be the focus of the party as whole.
“We need young, aspirational people to come to our country so that we can grow over a sustained period of time at a high rate that will allow us to create jobs without raising taxes, balance the budget, do all the things that we want to do,” Bush said. “So changing the debate to those issues is, I think, [what] the majority of Americans wants.
“Now,” he added, “is it a useful tool politically for some Republicans to stay focused on the political issue, the wedge issue? It might be, I don’t know, but I don’t think that’s right for our country.”
Romney staked one of the most uncompromising positions on immigration during the hard-fought GOP primaries, speaking at one point of “self-deportation” — making things so miserable for undocumented immigrants they go home — as a way to deal with the millions of people in the country illegally.
Delegates drafting the party’s platform ahead of its national convention here in Florida seemed more in tune with Romney’s position in the primary than Bush’s more tempered views, voting to restore several anti-illegal immigration provisions from the 2008 platform that had been omitted in earlier drafts.
In the wide-ranging interview, Bush used the opportunity to stick up for his older brother, former President George W. Bush, saying it was time for Obama to stop blaming his predecessor for the country’s economic difficulties.
“I think it’s time for him to move on,” Bush said. “Look, the guy was dealt a difficult hand, no question about it. But he’s had three years. His policies have failed. And rather than blame others ... maybe offer some fresh new solutions to the problems we face.”
Responding to the inevitable question about his own White House ambitions, Bush neither ruled in nor out a possible run for the presidency.
“I don’t think about it. I’m not motivated by it,” he said. “It takes an incredible amount of discipline to even think about aspiring to it and I’m not there yet in my life.”
Asked more broadly in a Sunday Tampa Bay Times interview, “Are you done with politics? What about 2016?” Bush replied: “I don’t know, but I am hoping for a Romney reelection.”