After President Obama defeated Mitt Romney by painting him as a plutocrats’ dream candidate, Republicans seemed divided over the outcome’s meaning. Some seemed to accept that Republicans needed to be more open — or appear more open — to using government to help economically struggling Americans.  Some suggested Romney’s wealth and superciliousness — not that voters believed GOP policies favored the rich — were the main problem.

Still others were sneeringly dismissive of the idea that Americans genuinely agreed on some level with the Democratic vision of government — such as Romney himself, who famously suggested that Obamacare had helped Dems by, in effect, buying votes with “free stuff.”

Now Jeb Bush has raised the ghost of Romney by using the actual term “free stuff” in a similar context. Asked by a South Carolina woman how Republicans would win black votes, he said:

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Bush pointed to his record on school choice and said that if Republicans could double their share of the black vote, they would win the swing states of Ohio and Virginia.
“Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” he said at the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual Shrimp Dinner. “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

This is not a “47 percent” moment; Bush was not criticizing recipients of government help as self-designated victims. Rather, he was implicitly criticizing the Democratic vision of government, suggesting that Dems want to use government handouts (“free stuff”) to destructively trap people in dependency (“take care of you”) in order to capture and hold their votes.

By all indications, Jeb Bush really does believe this. His first big economic speech argued that Dem policies “have built a spider web that traps people in perpetual dependence,” which is a slightly less ugly formulation than Paul Ryan’s “hammock” of “dependency,” because it doesn’t imply willful participation by the “victims.” And in a new interview with John Harwood, Bush, asked if Obama is “hostile to capitalism,” replied:

“I definitely do. I think he has a deep-seated belief that through government programs and through government regulation, you can improve the social condition. I think that’s his default place….Believing that unleashing American entrepreneurial spirit, you know, through lower taxes and less regulation; that’s not his instinctive position.”

Bush is correct: Obama does believe that government can improve people’s lives. So does Hillary Clinton. Whether this constitutes “hostility to capitalism” is a subjective matter. Obama and Clinton believe we can reap the best of capitalism while regulating it in the public interest and modestly redistributing wealth (in ways that still allow vast disparities of outcomes) through the democratic process to protect people from economic ruin and boost opportunity where the market fails to do so.

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Obviously Jeb Bush doesn’t completely reject this idea. Where he is on the continuum is hard to say. His tax plan is intended to seem middle-class friendly and closes some high end loopholes. But it also offers a huge windfall to the very top earners — which is consistent with his view (expressed to Harwood) that unshackling the market through tax cuts — and rolling back redistributive policies — are the way to help economically struggling Americans. If he thinks Obama era policies constitute handing out “free stuff” and trapping people in “spider webs,” his vision of government isn’t much more of an ideological compromise with the Obama years than Romney’s was. And that’s fine; let’s put this argument before the voters. Again.

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The House would immediately start the process of attempting to end federal funds for Planned Parenthood through a process known as budget reconciliation, according to House GOP aides. That could then allow leaders to separately pass a bipartisan spending bill to keep the government open and that Obama would sign while still making good on promises to maintain a hard-line on abortion funding.

Obama will veto the bill defunding Planned Parenthood, and conservatives (who want GOP leaders not to pass any bill funding the government unless it also defunds the group) will still scream “betrayal.” Of course, that’s exactly what conservatives want to be able to do.

* RUBIO ROLLS OUT FAMILY LEAVE PROPOSAL: Marco Rubio today will roll out a plan to give tax breaks to companies that give employers paid family leave. Hillary Clinton has proposed mandatory three months of leave, arguing it should be guaranteed, like in many other countries:

Rubio would give businesses a 25 percent tax credit for providing at least four weeks of paid family leave. It would be limited to 12 weeks of leave and $4,000 per employee….Rubio says Clinton’s approach is wrong because it would “place crippling requirements on private companies” instead of “creatively applying our free-enterprise principles.”

Looks like at least one of the GOP candidates thinks Clinton’s proposal will play well in a general election, and that it’s already time to edge towards it.

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* GOOD ECONOMIC NEWS: Just in from the Associated Press:

BREAKING: Economy grew at 3.9 percent rate in spring, helped by stronger consumer and business spending.

Maybe President Jeb Bush really will be able to get us up to 4 percent growth, after all!

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* BERNIE-MENTUM RAGES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: A new CNN poll finds Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton among likely New Hampshire primary voters by 46-30, with 14 percent going to Joe Biden. Remove Biden and Sanders leads Clinton by 49-36.

It seems plausible that Sanders could win either Iowa or New Hampshire, or even both, but then come primaries in South Carolina and Nevada and other states that are far more diverse, which is likely to give Clinton a substantial advantage.

* TRUMP-MENTUM RAGES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: The new CNN poll also finds that Donald Trump continues to lead among likely Republican voters in New Hampshire: He has 26 percent, while the newly-soaring Carly Fiorina has 16 percent and Marco Rubio has nine percent.

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While Trump has dipped slightly in the national polling averages, leading pundits to declare that his inevitable slide is underway, his support is basically unchanged in New Hampshire, and it’s unclear yet how this slide is affecting his chance of winning early primaries.

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* TRUMP LOSING GROUND IN NATIONAL POLLS: FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten takes a closer look and finds that in seven of eight national polls of Republican voters, Trump has dropped since his debate showdown with Carly Fiorina, who has gained in seven them. Adjusting for house effects, Trump has dropped an average of 3.1 points nationally.

Of course, any minute now, Trump just might find some new way to insult immigrants or call for mass removal or exclusion, so who knows…

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Mr. Bush isn’t wrong to suggest that there has been a move back toward more regulation under Mr. Obama, a move that will probably continue if a Democrat wins next year….what has been happening lately is an attempt…to replace knee-jerk opposition to regulation with the judicious use of regulation where there is good reason to believe that businesses might act in destructive ways. Will we see this effort continue? Next year’s election will tell.

Surely Republicans think this contrast is a certain winner, since generic “government” always polls badly. But specifics such as environmental and Wall Street regulations, which Jeb! would roll back, are another matter.

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