The number at the heart of Trump v. Bush slap fight

Donald Trump said Wednesday that Jeb Bush should speak English all the time in public, instead of occasionally addressing crowds in Spanish. On Thursday, Mr. Bush charged that his competitor is trying to 'insult his way into the presidency.'

Andrew Harnik/AP/File
Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Jeb Bush participate in the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland Aug. 6, 2015.

A crucial number may lie at the heart of the escalating slap fight between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. That number is 40: the percentage of Florida’s Hispanic vote that the Republican presidential nominee may need to win the state in the general election.

Why is Florida so important? Because from the GOP’s point of view, it might be the state that counts the most. The Democrats have a number of paths to gain the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House. But without Florida’s 29, Republicans might find it impossible to reach the 270 threshold, given the nation’s current breakdown of red and blue states.

Let’s back up and bring in the Trump-Bush brouhaha. On Wednesday, The Donald told Breitbart News that he liked Mr. Bush. Jeb is a nice guy, he said. But Jeb should speak English all the time in public, said Mr. Trump, instead of occasionally addressing crowds in Spanish.

“He should really set the example,” Trump said.

Bush shot back on Thursday morning, charging that Trump is trying to “insult his way into the presidency.” Then he went a bit deeper, explaining why he refuses to see undocumented immigrants purely as lawbreakers who should be deported.

“This is a diverse country. We should celebrate that diversity and embrace a set of shared values. Mr. Trump doesn’t believe in those shared values,” said Bush to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

There it is: the essential difference on this issue between the former Florida governor and the New York billionaire and other GOP contenders who back a hard line on immigration.

As ABC News’s political director Rick Klein notes, Trump is in essence repudiating an idea of the Republican Party, even an idea of America itself, which Bush has been pushing for years. If Trumpism rises, Bush falls. It may be that simple.

“That’s what makes this a big moment for Jeb Bush.... Bush clearly won’t win a game of insults with Trump. But he might win a battle for the future of the GOP that is expansive rather than narrow,” Mr. Klein writes Thursday.

Behind that calculus lie cold political numbers. At the presidential level, the Democrats have a blue state base of 247 electoral votes, according to political scientist Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. The Republicans have 206 red state votes.

So the GOP needs to win more swing states. Ohio and Florida are the big ones. But if you squint, you can count a path to Republican victory without Ohio. Florida? Nope. It’s a Republican must-win.

There are lots of Hispanic voters in Florida. To win the state, Republicans need about 40 to 45 percent of Hispanics, figures David Drucker at the right-leaning Washington Examiner. Mitt Romney didn’t reach that number. Would Trump? Well, 82 percent of Hispanics have an unfavorable view of him at the moment, points out Mr. Drucker. What do you think?

The Hispanic vote in Florida is complex: It consists of GOP-leaning Cubans, largely Democratic Puerto Ricans, and others. Bush, as a former Florida governor, is well aware of this. If Trump’s advocacy of ending birthright citizenship and forcibly deporting the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States becomes GOP orthodoxy, the Democrats might coast to a third straight White House win.

Trump’s immigration positions are “a recipe for political disaster in the general election,” according to Drucker.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.