NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—Republicans have a perception problem, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told conservative activists during a dinner here Friday, one that future candidates must work to combat if they ever hope to win elections.
In a speech closing the second night of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, Bush, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, outlined his own autopsy of the party's efforts in the 2012 election, when Democrats retained control of the White House and bolstered their numbers in Congress. Bush called on his fellow Republicans to share the party's message to a broad base of constituencies and argued that the GOP must work to avoid being cast as the party of "no."
"All too often we're associated with being anti-everything. Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party," Bush said.
While Bush did not mention it directly, he alluded to one of the most commonly cited shortcomings of Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign: the time the candidate told a group of donors that he would never win over "47 percent" of the voting population. Bush's conclusion: "Never again."
"Never again can the Republican party simply write off an entire segments of our society because we assume our principles have limited appeal. They have broad appeal," he told the hundreds of conservatives gathered for the dinner. "For exactly the same reason that millions of immigrants were drawn to our shores from every nation, we need to draw into our party people from every corner of society because conservative principles—and not liberal dogma—best reflect the ideals that make this nation great."
He added: "There is no us or them. The face of the Republican Party needs to be the face of every American. And we need to be the party of inclusion and acceptance."
Bush's remarks about the failures of the last election represent a broad view among the Republican Party faithful, who are seeking new ways to reach new constituencies in future elections. On Monday, the Republican National Committee will release a wide-ranging report called the "Growth and Opportunity" project that is expected to reflect many of the themes Bush discussed in his speech as the party continues its efforts to become more competitive at the ballot box.