CNN — Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and popular surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said Wednesday that Romney's past endorsement of a system he termed "self-deportation" was a poor way to characterize border security efforts.
"It gets to the question of tone, again," Bush said on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer." "I think there's a better way of saying we need to control the border. Great countries need to secure the border for national security purposes, for economic purposes and for rule of law purposes. And you can say that in a respectful way so you're not turning people off. And that's my basic message."
Republicans, who persistently face a deficit among Latino voters, must work harder to appeal to the important and growing voting bloc, including recognizing that the country's demographics are undergoing swift change.
"In order to govern with conservative principles, you have to win," Bush said. "In order to win, you have to recognize that the country is changing. We're getting older. And we're getting more diverse in our population."
Latino voters are considered key to winning the 2012 presidential election since they make up an increasing large chunk of the American electorate. They also represent a significant part of the population in several important swing states, including Florida, Nevada and Colorado.
In 2008, Latino voters went for President Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain 67%-31%. A Gallup survey conducted in August indicated 61% of registered Hispanic voters back President Barack Obama, compared to 29% who support Romney.
Romney has spoken out on immigration issues at various points in the Republican primary process, often finding himself at odds with more moderate voices within his own party. In December, Romney said he would veto the DREAM act, a measure that would offer a path to citizenship for minors in the country illegally, providing they served in the armed forces or attended college.
At a debate in January, Romney said he was in favor of "self-deportation," a policy that involves making economic conditions so difficult for undocumented workers that they choose to leave the country to find better opportunities.
Bush said at a panel discussion in Tampa this week Republicans were "acting stupid" by not embracing a more welcoming tone toward Latinos and other immigrants.
In his CNN interview, Bush said the GOP needed to take a longer-term view of how they speak about immigration issues.
"Over the long haul as we change demographically as a country, Latino issues become a bigger and bigger part of the scene and operation, you're going to have the need to change the tone on many issues," Bush said.
Key to changing that tone, Bush said, is turning the discussion back to economic issues that ultimately affect every American, including Latinos.
"I think the focus ought to be on aspirational messages that are more hopeful and optimistic," he said. "Economic growth over a sustained period of time. Building capacity for people, particularly the newly arrived so they can make a contribution to our country. Get the border control issues correct. But let's move beyond that to create sustained economic growth for a majority of people."