George H.W. Bush famously came to regret his "Read my lips: No new taxes" comment. His son, Jeb Bush, is making no such promise in 2016. But will it hurt him?
The younger Bush isn't toeing the line when it comes to some key conservative litmus-test issues. Among them is the no-new-taxes pledge spearheaded by Grover Norquist. While the pledge is signed by the vast majority of Republicans running for and serving in Congress, Bush hasn't signed it and says he won't.
And according to a new poll, he's actually on pretty solid ground -- even among Republicans.
The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows just 21 percent of registered voters say they would prefer a presidential candidate who "pledges never to raise taxes,'" while 74 percent prefer "someone who does not make such a pledge."
Among Republicans, it's nearly as lopsided against the pledge. Twenty-six percent say they want a pledge supporter, while 69 percent prefer someone who doesn't pledge not to raise taxes.
That's a pretty small universe of voters who insist on the pledge. And indeed, this isn't the first poll to suggest quite limited support for Norquist's pledge.
A 2012 Quinnipiac poll asked whether people thought it would be good or bad "for a member of Congress to sign a pledge to an anti-tax group to never increase taxes on corporations or the wealthy under any circumstance?" Just 10 percent said it would be a good idea; 85 percent disagreed.
That question, of course, only mentioned corporations and the wealthy, which could surely skew the results against the pledge. The question from the Post-ABC poll is much more neutral, but it still shows Americans -- and Republicans -- overwhelmingly oppose such a pledge.
CNN in December asked the question in somewhat different fashion, bringing up Bush by name and asking whether his move to decline the pledge makes people less likely to vote for him. Thirty-eight percent said it did, while 19 percent said it made them more likely, and 43 percent said it made no difference.
While not a huge strike against, this poll suggests declining the pledge could be a net-negative -- more so than the Post-ABC poll, at least. But it stands to reason that mentioning Bush by name could bias the question; several polls have shown around four in 10 Republicans are predisposed to vote against Bush in the first place. (Of course, it would also make sense for Bush supporters to say it would make them "more likely" to back him.)
And oftentimes on an issue like this, the enthusiasm is on the more conservative (pro-pledge) side. But that's not really the case here. Twenty-three percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the Post-ABC poll oppose the no-tax pledge and say it's "extremely" or "very" important to them -- slightly more than the 18 percent who support it and say the same.
The picture is more pro-pledge among the most conservative Republicans, though. Thirty percent feel strongly about a candidate supporting the pledge; 14 percent feel strongly that the candidate shouldn't sign the pledge. And these voters, we would note, tend to drive the conversation in GOP primaries.
And this poll doesn't mean Republicans will stop signing the pledge. There are other factors involved besides public support, including support from the business community and anti-tax advocates like Norquist, as well as campaign contributions from wealthy (and potentially tax-rate-conscious) donors.
Certainly, signing the pledge has become a rite of passage for most Republicans -- to Norquist's credit. But Bush is going to try a different tack, and it might not hurt him as much as Norquist would hope.