Columba, Jeb Bush’s Mexican-born wife, is well known as protective of her privacy and uninterested in spending a lot of time in front of the cameras. But she has also stepped up when she had to.
George H. W. Bush’s “Little Brown Ones” Gaffe
In 1988, George H. W. Bush suffered some embarrassment during the Republican National Convention when he introduced his three grandchildren to President Ronald Reagan as “Jebby’s kids from Florida, the little brown ones.” Still determined to compete for the Latino vote, Bush’s political consultant shot a Spanish-language ad featuring Columba and her kids.
“This presidential election might be the most important in our history,” Columba says, on what appears to be an extremely nice back porch. “For the first time our voice can be heard. For the first time we have the chance to elect a president who cares about us, who understands the values of our traditions, and of our families. For the first time all of this will be possible. Believe me, or ask my father-in-law.”
Then Bush himself speaks, in English but with Spanish subtitles, implicitly assuring Latinos that he embraces his bi-racial children: “As president, I have a lot of reasons to help Hispanics everywhere, because I’ll be answering to my grandkids, not just to history.”
A Cue from the Kennedys
And history speaks for itself. In 1960, John F. Kennedy was the first presidential candidate to explicitly reach out to the Latino voting bloc.
Jackie Kennedy spoke five languages and JFK used that to his advantage, featuring Jackie speaking Spanish in political ads and speeches.
While Latinos were a much smaller slice of the electorate back in 1960, political consultants and historians credit Jackie’s prominent role in outreach to Latinos as a crucial component of Kennedy’s razor thin margin of victory in 1960.
Columba Bush Couldn’t Help Father-In Law With Latinos
The ad is straight-forward and sincere. But it didn’t do much to win over Latino voters. Only 30 percent backed Bush, five points less than Reagan’s performance in 1980.
Sixteen years later, his son George W. Bush achieved a high-water mark for modern Republicans, winning 40 percent of the Latino vote in his lone popular vote win. The younger Bush didn’t have Hispanic children to display; he earned that vote by stressing compassionate immigration reform.
Since then, Republican rhetoric toward immigrants has grown hostile, and subsequent GOP nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney gave up the gains made by George W. Bush.
Jeb Bush, if he becomes the nominee, will have two factors in his favor. He too supports immigration reform and he’ll have Columba. Perhaps she can do more for her husband than she could for her father-in-law.