Jeb Bush’s trajectory in the U.S. presidential race has been a puzzle to analysts, who wonder how a candidate who came charging out of the gate looking poised for success ended up flatlining so quickly.
Nowhere has his plummeting performance been so marked as with Puerto Ricans, especially those living on the island. The Spanish-speaking (and, at one-time, Hispanic-identifying) Bush was the first Republican candidate to visit the island and initially seemed perfectly positioned to develop a strong foundation of support in anticipation of the primary.
On the wane
But as the election season has worn on, support for Bush has waned, especially as the candidate has addressed the issue of the island’s debt and its status vis-a-vis the United States (it is currently a commonwealth rather than a state or independent nation).
During last night’s Republican debate, Bush was confronted about his positions regarding Puerto Rican statehood and the island’s debt crisis. Bush, who has stated previously that he supports incorporating Puerto Rico as the 51st state of the United States if Puerto Ricans arrive at that decision by self-determination, reaffirmed that position during the debate. But he emphasized that before any questions of independence or statehood can even be taken up again, the island must resolve its debt crisis, and, he added, American taxpayers shouldn’t bear the burden of bailing the island out.
“[T]he spiraling out-of- control requires Puerto Rico to make structural reforms,” Bush said, adding, “The federal government can play a role in allowing them to do that, but they should not — the process of statehood or the status of Puerto Rico won’t be solved until we get to the bigger issue of how you deal with the structural economic problems they’re facing right now.”
The quote played big in Puerto Rico, where it made news and spurred reactions ranging from incredulity that Puerto Rico was even raised in the debate (none of the other candidates, however, was asked to comment on the topic), to outrage that Bush seemed to be advocating abandonment of the island.
“Nah, we won’t bail them out, but we’ll just let them navigate the problems we created solo,” tweeted one debate watcher.
— Briana Rinaldo (@BrianaRinaldo) January 29, 2016
Bush’s opinions about Puerto Rico’s debt and its status may be partly to blame for his flagging performance in polls, say some interest groups.
Even before last night’s debate, Conservative Intel had reported in August 2015 that the former Florida governor’s opinions about Puerto Rico were likely to alienate him from Iowa caucus attendees. With the caucus coming up next week, their prediction will soon be put to the test.