Actually, the unveiling of Jeb Bush has only just begun. Speculation about Bush’s possible candidacy reached something of a mini-crescendo when he announced before Christmas that he would be “actively exploring” a run for the Presidency. That did not come as a great surprise—Candy Crowley on CNN remarked that it was what she had thought he was doing all along over the past many months. Nevertheless, the making of a formal statement made it seem unlikely that Bush would decide that the whole thing was not a good idea.
As long ago as March 13, 2014, in Blog No. 31 “The GOP in the Desert: Looking for Lawrence of Arabia,” we offered Governor Bush our “pre-endorsement.” We see no reason to change that designation. We continue to believe that he is the most attractive potential candidate for our party, most likely not only to prevail in a general election but to lead effectively and to govern wisely. Yet a full endorsement would obviously be premature. Not only has Bush not declared his candidacy, he has yet to articulate his views on a broad range of domestic and foreign issues. To the extent that he is seen as a “moderate,” he has not yet indicated how he will navigate the treacherous waters of the Republican primaries, where moderates of any stripe appear to be an endangered species. Bush was quoted not long ago as as saying that a Republican nominee might “lose the primary to win the general.” This prompted George Will to remark tartly that “This sounds like a baseball strategy that requires stealing first base. There is a reason this has not been tried: the rules of the game.” Obviously, however, Bush understands that while, he might lose a primary or two, he must do well in others.
In any case, Bush seems clearly to be the front runner, at least for the moment. A CNN poll released on December 28 showed him with a significant lead over other potential candidates. Governor Chris Christie trailed by a margin of 23% to 13% with others still further back. There is, however, good reason for caution. The two issues with which Bush has been most prominently identified, immigration reform and the Common Core educational standards, are ones on which RINOcracy.com is in general agreement with his position. Yet they are often cited as positions on which Bush may be at odds with much of the Republican base. The CNN poll confirmed that, despite Bush’s overall lead, significant numbers of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents (RLIs) differ with him on these issues.
With respect to immigration, Bush’s position is more conservative than the bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan (but primarily Democratic) support: Bush has favored a reform which would permit illegal aliens to remain in this country but does not provide a “path to citizenship.” Other aspects of his approach include an emphasis on meeting workforce needs for high-skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants, as well as seasonal workers. According to the CNN poll, the most problematic aspect of the issue for conservatives appears to be Bush’s observation earlier this year that many illegal immigrants come to the United States as an “act of love” for their families. By a margin of 42% to 20% Republican and RLIs indicated that Bush’s statement made them “less likely” rather than “more likely” to support him. It is a quote that he may well tire of hearing repeated on the primary trail.
As an early supporter of the Common Core Standards, we have been surprised, as no doubt Governor Bush has, by the speed and the strength with which opposition to the standards has developed over the past year, particularly on the Republican right. Some early supporters of the standards, Bobbie Jindall for example, have become opponents, a few states have withdrawn from them and in others a battle is ongoing. We recognize that some educators question various aspects of the standards; in addition problems have arisen where states have attempted to implement the standards too quickly and linked them to high-stakes testing that can be unfair to both teachers and students. Nevertheless, we continue to believe that, on balance, the Common Core Standards are an important and constructive step toward improving the level of American education. Here again, however, the CNN poll provides a warning signal. In that poll, 38% of Republicans and RLIs said they were less likely to support Bush because of the issue and only 20% more likely to support him.
Conservative opposition to the Common Core Standards is based in part on the erroneous belief that they create and impose a federal curriculum. In fact, the standards do not create a curriculum and were developed not by the federal government, but as an initiative of the states acting independently. To be sure, the federal government contributed to the confusion, and sparked much of the political controversy, by endorsing the standards and providing incentives for their adoption by individual states. That confusion, however, should not be seen as a fatal flaw. As we observed in Blog No. 29, dated February 26, 2014:
The concern among Republicans over the federal role in education is understandable. Nevertheless, it is a romantic and dangerous notion to suggest that all would be well if the federal government simply went away and matters were left entirely in the hands of individual states and school boards. It is precisely because of the failings of the latter entities that the new standards were developed in the first place.
George Will recently brought a new twist to the conservatives’ concern over Common Core by suggesting that regulatory actions taken by the Department of Education in response to sexual assaults on college campuses are relevant evidence of the malign influence the federal government casts in the field of education. Asserting that the alleged epidemic of rape on campus is largely manufactured hysteria, Will accused the Department of imposing procedures that “stripped colleges and universities of a crucial component of self-government.” Thus, in a column that was generally favorable to Bush, he concluded:
This crusade against a chimerical “epidemic” is rapidly collapsing under the weight of its absurdities and of the frauds (hello, Rolling Stone) that moralistic frenzy begets. But if Bush does not see the pertinence of this episode to Common Core, which is the thin end of a potentially enormous federal wedge, he should not be put in charge of the executive branch.
We have great respect (and often admiration) for George Will, but we think that in this case he has indulged in manufacturing his own bit of hysteria. The issues of sexual assaults on campus are difficult and complex and ones that we may address at some point. While we have serious problems with the approach of the Department of Education, we believe that sexual assaults on campus are neither as rare nor imaginary as Will seems to think. In any case, to invoke that set of issues by way of attacking Common Core strikes us as distinctly far-fetched. (But Mr. Will may rest easy as we harbor no aspirations to “be put in charge of the executive branch.”)
Immigration and Common Core are hardly the only issues on which Governor Bush will find challenges from Republican competitors on his right. Climate change generally, and EPA regulations in particular, are likely to produce tensions between the Republican base that dominates the primaries and the general electorate toward which Bush would like to point. And then there is the perennial issue of taxation. While Bush established a record as a tax-cutter as Governor of Florida, some have expressed concern that he is not comfortable donning the ideological straight jacket on taxes that many would prefer. Bush indicated at a 2012 Congressional hearing that–unlike every Republican presidential candidate in 2012–he would accept a budget deal providing $1 in tax increases and $10 in spending cuts: “If you could bring to me a majority of people to say that we’re going to have $10 in spending cuts for $1 of revenue enhancement — put me in, coach.” In the same vein, Bush has refused to sign the pledge against raising taxes promoted, with almost universal success among Republicans, by Americans for Tax Reform headed by the highly influential Grover Norquist. Indeed, Bush compounded his heresy by a less than respectful reference to Norquist:
The rigidity of those pledges is something I don’t like. The circumstances change and you can’t be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It’s – who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?
For our part, we have consistently urged flexibility on the issue of taxes and, moreover, suggested that as indicated by the Simpson-Bowles Commission, entitlement reform and an increase in tax revenues are essential ingredients of any solution to our long-term fiscal challenge.
Our support of Jeb Bush is not seamless. He is more conservative on “social issues” than we would prefer and he is no friend of gun control. Unfortunately, however, his positions in those areas probably go with the territory of being a national Republican candidate at the present time, and we are prepared to continue as a “loyal opposition within the Party” on such matters. We also disagreed with Bush’s swift and emphatic criticism of President Obama’s initiative on Cuba. We are persuaded that, quite simply, the policy of isolation we have pursued for fifty years has not worked and that it is well past time to try something new. We doubt, however, that Cuba will become a major issue in either the primary or the general elections or that Bush, if elected, would reverse the steps taken by Obama. As to more serious issues of foreign policy—most notably the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine —Bush has been critical of President Obama, but has not spelled out what he would do going forward. We, along with everyone else, will have to wait and see.
Finally, some observers have suggested that conservatives may be less troubled by disagreements on particular issues, than by the Bush “persona” and the impression that he is uncomfortable with them. As Nate Cohn, writing in The New York Times put it:
Mr. Bush suggested that Ronald Reagan would “have a hard time” in today’s Republican Party, and said the party sounded as if it didn’t allow for disagreement among its members. A candidate can get away with a couple of moderate positions; it’s a lot harder to run against the party’s base, like Jon Huntsman in 2012.
If Bush is uncomfortable with some of the more doctrinaire elements of the Party, it is a discomfort that we share. But we expect that, much as we might be tempted to cheer him on in such a battle, he is too skilled a politician to “run against the party’s base” in the manner of a Jon Huntsman. Indeed, the aspect of Bush’s persona that perhaps appeals most to us was reflected in a comment made in early 2014: that he would seek the nomination for president only if he could do so “joyfully.” Wouldn’t that be a refreshing campaign?