As the Republican party veers rightward on the issue, embracing an enforcement-first policy that has Republican-controlled states enacting tough new immigration laws, Bush has become a leading advocate for a more lenient immigration policy. Speaking at a panel discussion during the Republican National Convention, he implored the party to embrace a more inclusive philosophy.
"The future of our party is to reach out consistently to have a tone that is open and hospitable to people who share values,'' Bush said, adding that "the conservative cause would be the governing philosophy as far as the eye could see" if "we just stop acting stupid."
The Republican party has struggled to win over Latino voters, a weakness that Mitt Romney has acknowledged could be a decisive one. A recent Latino Decisions poll found that the demographic favors President Obama over Romney by a 2-to-1 margin.
But Republican delegates in Tampa have stuck to a hardline position, crafting a party platform that opposed "any forms of amnesty" for undocumented immigrants and called for "humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily." That echoes Romney's controversial endorsement of a policy of "self-deportation."
Bush said that there is considerable overlap between conservative values and the Latino community's emphasis on faith and family, but he said that immigration is a "gateway issue" necessary to win the trust of Hispanic voters. Following a path that leaves Latinos feeling excluded will steadily drain away support for Republican candidates, Bush warned.
"That's not opinion," he said. "That's math."
The demographic trends would seem to bode poorly for the Republican Party. Latinos are the fastest-growing group in the United States, and their share of the population is booming in increasingly contested states like Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. That has the potential to upend the electoral map, giving Democratic candidates a path to victory in Western states that had formerly been reliably red.
Romney fended off attacks from his right flank during the Republican primary by adopting the harsh rhetoric of immigration restrictionists, but his campaign dismisses concerns that that could alienate voters in the general election. The campaign points to the fact that Latinos have endured higher rates of unemployment and foreclosures and argues that Romney's economic message will resonate.