Jeb Bush spent a good deal of time campaigning in New Hampshire last week. Among his other messages he assured the famously unpredictable Republicans there that he won’t tailor his positions to please conservatives. This has a nice symmetry to it, because conservative Republicans in New Hampshire, and elsewhere, won’t tailor their primary votes to accommodate Bush.
“You don’t abandon your core beliefs,” Bush said, a statement most conservative Republicans can get behind. Misfortunately for Bush, his core beliefs on immigration and Common Core — he’s big with both — are crosswise with the conservative portion of the Republican base, a group it will be difficult to secure the Republican nomination in 2016 without.
I know, I know, Republicans have a solid post-Reagan tradition of nominating moderates or hyphenated conservatives, like the kinder, gentler George Herbert Walker or the compassionate W. But 2016 may not be like 2012, when a series of weak conservative candidates took short turns trying to be the un-Romney. And it’s surely not like the hopeless (for conservatives) year of 2008. Scott Walker and Marco Rubio are not Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last week shows the percentage of Republicans who say they could see themselves voting for Bush has dropped from 63 percent in December to 49 percent. Various polls over the months have shown a large percentage of Republicans resistant to voting for yet another Bush. During the same December to March stretch, Marco Rubio has seen a 15 percent increase in the percentage of Republicans who would consider voting for him.
While Bush has done extremely well collecting operatic amounts of campaign cash from rich and connected donors — he may in fact set an NCAA record for campaign cash collected by a non-incumbent — he has had less luck with hoi polloi. In another poll, only four percent of respondents say that Bush represents middle class values well. In this one, Bush finished two points behind the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Barack Obama scored 22 percent on this one, Mz Hillary 18.
I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that a rich WASP (WASP by lineage, I guess we should say — he’s now a Catholic) whose wife considers dropping five figures on jewelry a day well spent might not be considered the best guy to carry the flag for the middle class, something the Republican candidate must do in 2016 if that party is to reclaim 1600. This may not be fair. Every indication is that Jeb Bush is a decent fellow who has at least as much feeling for his fellow man as the average politician. But who said politics is fair?
Many Florida conservatives, and those across the nation, know that Jeb Bush doesn’t like or trust them any more than they like or trust him. This Bush may be right on taxes, solid on the Second Amendment, and as pro-life as one can be in our post Roe v. Wade world. But he has on several occasions bemoaned how conservative the Republican Party has become (would it were so). I sometimes get the impression he thinks movement conservatives are the problem.
Bush has suggested that those who don’t go along with his notion of a comprehensive immigration policy for America are nativist yahoos. A great deal of newsprint and airtime has been squandered on the question of whether or not what Bush stands for is “amnesty.” After sifting what Bush has to say about “legal status,” a “pathway to citizenship,” and not punishing children who were brought here illegally by their parents, one can conclude that Bush’s policy on the millions here illegally can be stated simply: No one is going home. No one. No one will be obliged to return to the country he is a citizen of. If you’ve made it to El Norte, by hook or crook, you’re in for the duration. This is not a winner with most conservative voters.
It becomes more evident as Bush campaigns that he has both style and issue problems with the right, a part of the political spectrum, the interests of which the Republican Party is expected to represent. Those who say this Bush is basically conservative are basically correct. But Bush is spectacularly wrong by conservative lights on immigration. He’s also off the reservation on Common Core. He doesn’t seem to understand that Common Core, whoever came up with the idea, is a perfect vehicle for expanding the already stifling control the federal government exercises over K-12 schooling in America. He also doesn’t seem to understand that education in America is supposed to be a state and local responsibility, and that he is running for president, not for the office of National School Marm. Americans want their president to focus on other issues.
So temperament and issues are hurting Bush with Conservatives. And since December when he announced — to great fanfare and high expectations — that he would sort of think about running (wink wink) but I’m not announcing it yet, he has shown himself to be a lackluster campaigner. A problem that will hurt him with all voters.
Bush has not campaigned for office since he ran for re-election as Florida’s governor in 2002. He hasn’t been in public office since the first week of 2007. He’s showing a little ring rust. Since leaving public office eight years ago Bush has made a lot of money in the private sector and worried education policy to the third decimal place. Nothing wrong with either of these things. But he’s competing in Major League politics now, and so far it’s not clear that he can get around on the fastball.
Never a great stump speaker — Bush admits to being an introvert who would rather stay home and read a book than go out dancing — his campaign style is considerably short of electric. Bush’s speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa set off snooze alarms across the auditorium. After his speech Tampa Police Department officers warned conventioneers not to drive or operate heavy equipment for at least three hours. If Bush and Mz Hillary are at the top of their tickets in 2016, the nation may be suffering from mass narcolepsy by November of that year. Presidential debates between these two would get worse ratings than Honey Boo-Boo in Las Vegas. Bush can work a room on K Street. On Main Street, not so much.
When Bush announced in December that he was thinking about running, Big Business, Big Media, Big Immigration, and Big Money declared the race for the Republican nomination over. Bush was the prohibitive favorite. He was The One. (No one used the now toxic word “electability,” but the meaning was clear enough.) The Establishment is still in love with Bush. But now that regular Republican voters have had a look at Bush III, many of them have decided that Jeb is a Bush too far.
It may well turn out that the Republican nominee for 2016 is from a sunny swing state. But it increasingly looks like if this happens that candidate will be Marco Rubio, not Jeb Bush.
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