Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush turned a lot of heads Friday when he said immigrants in the United States are “more fertile,” but the real shockwaves are being felt in the conservative movement after Bush delivered a defense of immigration reform and of accepting “non-traditional” families at the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition conference.
Bush, regularly mentioned as a potential 2016 Republican candidate for president, upset the delicate balance at the conference—a key stop for any potential candidate to tap into the Republican Party’s social conservative base—where speakers like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan carefully toed the line to avoid upsetting their hosts. Bush went the opposite direction, encouraging conservatives to embrace immigration reform and the modern definition of families.
“Demography is destiny,” Bush said in his address to the “Road to Majority” conference, bemoaning declining birth rates in the United States and talking about the economic benefit of immigration reform.
“We’re going to have fewer workers taking care of a larger number of people than the country has a social contract with, to be able to allow them to retire with dignity and purpose,” Bush said. “We cannot do that with the fertility rates that we have in our country.”
“Immigrants are more fertile and they love families and they have more intact families and they bring a younger population,” he continued, calling for a more economically focused immigration policy and saying immigrants create an “engine of economic prosperity.”
(While Twitter was aflame over Bush’s word choice, Bush has long been a supporter of immigration reform and has built the case around immigrant fertility rates before.)
Conservatives have been the last to grab onto the bipartisan immigration reform effort, with many either opposing the effort or trying to toughen the bill. The Faith and Freedom Coalition, founded by evangelical leader Ralph Reed, is opposed to a path to citizenship for those who crossed the border illegally and is calling for tougher standards on border security. Rubio, one of the “Gang of Eight” authors of the senate’s bipartisan immigration bill and the subject of conservative pressure to toughen or even abandon the legislation, barely mentioned it in his speech to the group on Thursday.
Unlike Rubio’s remarks, Bush’s weren’t’ punctuated by cries of “Amen” or rapturous applause, especially his comments about reevaluating the conservative definition of ‘family.’
“Let me remind you, families don’t look all the time like they used to, and that’s okay,” Bush said. “We have to be supportive of a single mom or dad, or the grandmother taking care of young children, the non-traditional family as we are of any idealized families of our youth.”
Bush, who said in March that he believes gay marriage should be a state issue, said that society shouldn’t focus on the makeup of families, but on the outcome for their children.
“Things are not as black and white as they used to be — there’s a lot more gray now,” he told the social conservative group. No one applauded.
In an interview with ABC News airing Sunday, Bush did not offer any hints as to whether he will seek the White House inhabited by both his brother and father.
“I think we’ve got a split ballot amongst the Bush senior family. Pretty sure that’s the case,” he joked.