Jeb Bush had yet another uncomfortable moment at a town hall in South Carolina yesterday. While he was trying to fend off questions about The Donald and get out his message on economic growth and jobs, a questioner (who was a white guy, by the way) stood up and tagged him with something completely out of left field. (Washington Post)
Jeb Bush said here Thursday night that Republicans can win more African American voters by emphasizing a positive message that does not involve promising “free stuff,” a remark that bore echoes of comments by Mitt Romney that drew criticism in 2012.
“Look around this room,” a man told Bush, who spoke to a mostly white crowd. “How many black faces do you see? How are you going to include them and get them to vote for you?” asked the man, who was white.
Bush pointed to his record on school choice and said that if Republicans could double their share of the black vote, they would win the swing states of Ohio and Virginia.
“Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” he 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.”
I’m willing to stick my neck out right now and predict that if anyone does any serious checking this weekend you’re going to find that this guy was a plant for the Democrats. It’s not that the question of expanding the tent and finding a way for the GOP to carry a larger share of the minority vote isn’t a valid one. It absolutely is. But when I hear the way the question was phrased… look around the room and count the black faces… that’s not how somebody concerned about winning the next election would phrase it. It’s also an invitation for somebody from the establishment wing to mouth an answer which the Left can quickly light up like a torch. Almost as if following a script, Bush stuck his foot in his mouth.
Jeb(!) wasn’t very bright when he chose to invoke Mitt(!) and the “free stuff” comment. That’s just an example of not learning from the past. The core message is absolutely solid because the only sustainable program to improve people’s lot in life is a job. But phrasing welfare benefits and entitlement programs as “free stuff” opens the door to liberal pundits yapping endlessly about how he must be calling all minority voters “moochers” or whatever. But as I said, the question was tailor made for making any establishment Republican look bad.
It’s not the first time this has happened this cycle. The now infamous “Muslim Question Guy” at Trump’s rally earlier in the month turned out to be a dedicated Democrat supporter. It’s a pretty good tactic if you think about it, but having seen it rolled out multiple times the GOP candidates need to be prepped and ready for these tricks. (I’m not saying we need to be doing it ourselves… but then again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t, either.) It’s nearly impossible to completely vet every single person who shows up for a rally without making the place look like an internment camp, which carries its own set of PR problems. But if you suspect that such a stunt is coming your way your staff should be getting you ready to deflect those questions and defuse the situation.
Thus far the Republican field seems to be failing that test. This is war and the other side is in no mood to take prisoners, so the GOP needs to get ahead of the curve and be ready for these shenanigans.