The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce wraps up its annual national convention in Houston today. Yesterday the event jumped into the national spotlight, as protestors interrupted a speech by GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
Bush's speech didn't start off political at all. The former Florida governor-turned-GOP presidential candidate started off his remarks saying it was good to be back in his former home of Houston and began his lunchtime speech honoring three female business leaders.
But Hispanic activists wanted Bush to answer questions about immigration policy, interrupting his speech with chants of “No hope without our vote!”
Mary Moreno of the Texas Organizing Project, one of the groups that led the protest, says they want to force a discussion on immigration reform on all presidential hopefuls. They zeroed in on Bush not only because he was in Houston, but because, she says, he's trying to play to both sides of the immigration debate.
“He has been more reasonable on immigration in the past. But now he's sort of also being ‘Trump-ified,’ where he's trying to appease to that audience,” Moreno said.
While some might brush off the protest as the action of a group that won’t likely support a Republican candidate, Hispanic Republicans aren't too happy about the current rhetoric coming out of the GOP field, either. Artemio “Temo” Muniz is chairman of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans. He's also part of the Republican National Committee's Hispanic Engagement Initiative, which is aimed at growing the party's base.
“Right now, our brand is toxic with the Hispanic community,” Muniz said.
Muniz also believes Donald Trump has pushed immigration rhetoric in the wrong direction, and that several of the candidates tried to jump on Trump's ideas as a way to boost their own poll numbers. Many GOP candidates, he fears, have given up on any outreach to Hispanics; though, he firmly believes Republicans can't win the White House without getting around 40 percent of that group's vote. In 2012, Mitt Romney won support from about 27 percent of Hispanic voters.
“I wish that I could tell you that my party, the Republican party, could show up to do the 'get out the vote' effort in Nevada and New Mexico as the [Republican National Convention],” Muniz said. “And they could send Republican operatives with elephant masks and knocking on doors in Spanish. But that's not going to work. At this point there's so much disgust, that won't work.”
As a result of that disgust, Muniz thinks candidates like Marco Rubio and his favorite, Jeb Bush, would have to run as independents to effectively court Hispanic voters. But Muniz says he's started to see Rubio and Bush push back on the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Back in Houston, Bush gave an example of that when answering protestors.
“This is what I believe. As I've been constantly for the DREAM Act kids to get a path to citizenship. I've been consistently for it. And I'll continue to be consistently for it irrespective of what the political ramifications are.”
He also argued the U.S. doesn't need to build a wall or deport everyone in the country that's here illegally. He says the hundreds of billions of dollars it would cost is not a conservative, practical plan.
“Finally, let me suggest that there are voices in my party that don't agree with any of this, or some of it at least – the louder voices,” he said. “And, look...I don't want to create more of the food fight.”
But, so far in this GOP primary race, simply stating an opinion outside of the far right of the party could be considered fighting words — and the food is already flying.