Speaking to a crowd of mostly white Republicans in South Carolina this week, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush mused on his strategy to win over African American voters.
“Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” Bush said at the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual Shrimp Dinner. “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”
The remark echoes a comment made by Mitt Romney four years ago, when he was asked at an NAACP event about his stance on the Affordable Care Act. “If they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff,” Romney said. He soon followed up with the infamous speech to private donors saying Democrat voters “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Romney went on to lose the election, earning just 6 percent of African American votes.
Jeb Bush’s campaign did not respond to ThinkProgress’ inquiry on whether he too was referring to health care, food, and housing when he said “free stuff.”
Republican leaders have long acknowledged they have alienated African Americans and other minority groups through both tone-deaf rhetoric and controversial policies, but the party has done little to change its tune.
Though Jeb Bush has made a concerted effort to court Latino voters, his stances on health care, the minimum wage, climate change, and immigration are out of line with what most U.S. Latinos reportedly want. His outreach to African American voters has been minimal, and has largely avoided discussion of his record in Florida — which included signing the Stand Your Ground gun law, abolishing affirmative action in state universities, and carrying out a voter purge that disenfranchised many eligible black residents.
In an e-mail to ThinkProgress, Bush campaign staffer Allie Brandenburger argued, “He has a vision for the future that can unite Americans behind restoring people’s ability to rise up and achieve their dreams.”
Citing criticism of the implication that voters of color have been swayed by “free stuff,” Brandenburger added, “The Democrats are creating attacks where they don’t exist because they know their policies have failed the tens of millions stuck in poverty and they fear Jeb’s positive message of expanding opportunity for everyone.”
Yet the new remark on “free stuff” versus “earned success” earned swift condemnation, in part because Bush — like Romney — was born into a powerful political family, with all the privileges that entails. Those advantages in life have spanned from his youth, when he attended expensive boarding schools and private universities, to today, where as much as half of the funds his campaign has raised have come from his family’s donor network.
He has also proven he is not adverse to policies that give out “free stuff.” The tax plan he unveiled earlier this summer would give massive breaks to corporations, the rich, and those who inherit family wealth. Jeb Bush himself would save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in taxes under such a plan.