Is Jeb Bush really going to run against the conservative base? That would be odd since he is a conservative — a pro-Second Amendment, pro-life, pro-defense, pro-growth, tax reducing and spending cutting conservative.
His remark last week concerning how he would have to run the presidential race if he jumped in and the reaction to it indicate how unhinged the far-right, shutdown squad sliver of the GOP electorate is than it is of his campaign vision. (Those who did not listen or did not care to accurately relate his words would be the people who ran or supported radical right candidates in Senate primaries in North Carolina, Kansas, Georgia, Alaska, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas — and lost every one.)
What Jeb Bush actually said, in case anyone is interested, was that one has to “lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles.” That has nothing to do with running against anyone or anything. It has everything to do with — unlike say Mitt Romney (whom the right liked in 2008 and then despised in 2012) — adopting positions one does not sincerely believe in order to curry favor with what one thinks the base wants to hear. That the far right should interpret his comment as vowing to run against them is more telling about them than about Jeb Bush. And it is equally telling that the conservative media echo chamber hailed it as “proof” Jeb Bush is no conservative. Apparently political insincerity is a must with this crowd.
This is silliness on stilts, and it assumes primary voters will listen to those who caricature Bush rather than Bush himself. That is what they thought about Sen. Mitch McConnell and other full-fledged conservatives whom they made out to be liberals. It is the triumph of spin over facts, and of their own self-importance over political reality.
At a time that some hardline conservatives are ridiculing the mainstream media for narratives that are not supported by facts (in the case of purported rape at University of Virginia and the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.) it is ironic that they advance their own false narrative (Jeb is a squishy moderate) that is unsupported by the facts.
It is not clear why the far right is so obsessed with reinventing Jeb Bush. Adam C. Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, who knows Jeb better than any of the right-wingers wanting to reinvent Jeb Bush, wrote:
“He is thoughtful and informed, but there is nothing liberal about Jeb Bush. He is an arch-conservative,” said Dan Gelber, who as a Democratic leader in the Legislature respectfully and constantly fought most of Bush’s agenda. “He might have been moderate now and again, but even then it was probably by accident.”
Bush was not just a successful Republican governor politically; He [sic] was a conservative activist governor who relished pushing the envelope on policy. Conservative activists elsewhere may revile the Bush name, but in America’s biggest battleground state this Bush is like a Milton Friedman or Barry Goldwater in terms of promoting conservatism.
“(The) [sic] mere fact that he was able to propose and implement a sweeping change in Florida government during his two terms remains a notable achievement in state governance. It is also a notable achievement for the conservative movement, because Bush showed that conservatives could do more than offer tax cuts; they could also change government in fundamental ways,” University of North Florida political scientist Matthew Corrigan writes in his new book, Conservative Hurricane: How Jeb Bush Remade Florida.
Rather than try to create a false image of a candidate who has yet to decide whether he is even running, the far right of the party, as with so much else, needs a game plan, not an attack built on distortion. Will they embrace a freshman hot-headed senator, risking a comparison to President Obama, or can they find a more experienced conservative (Govs. Mike Pence, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal or Rick Perry) who might also have some mainstream appeal?
Jeb appears more interested in a run than he was six months or a year ago, but I have no reason to believe he has made the decision. What few know is whether he will be a good candidate. Whether he can pull together a fleet-footed team, take on the Twitter-ized media without losing patience, refine a crisp message and stump speech, and rise above the fray in debates all remain to be seen. But if he runs and loses it won’t be because he is insufficiently conservative, but because he did not execute his campaign plan or there just was someone better.