“I’m offering something different.”
Which Republican presidential candidate said these words? Was it Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina, one of the outsiders highlighting the fact that they have never held elective office? Or maybe John Kasich, Scott Walker or Chris Christie, one of the sitting GOP governors running against Washington?
No, it is Jeb Bush in his first campaign TV ad in the 2016 race.
Something different? Like what, a third Bush presidency?
The slogan, and the ad, epitomize everything that is wrong with his presidential campaign. In an election where outsiders are dominating, Bush’s ad screams “politician” — factory workers toiling in the background, while the candidate in his shirtsleeves talks about his experience and accomplishments in office. You could have seamlessly replaced Bush with almost any political candidate in America.
Moreover, it’s the wrong message. His ad is titled “I’ve delivered.” But Republican voters don’t want a politician who “delivers.” According to a Monmouth University poll, only 26 percent of Republican voters say we need “someone with government experience who knows how to get things done,” while 67 percent want an outsider who will shake up Washington.
Like a general who prepares to re-fight the last war rather than the unconventional war he is in, Bush is fighting the last election rather than this unconventional race. Trump is pummeling him with ads calling Bush a “low-energy person” and saying that even Bush’s mom thinks “we’ve had enough Bushes.” And Bush’s best response is to call Trump a “self-promoter”? Trump has his name emblazoned in gold on the tops of skyscrapers across America. Of course he’s a self-promoter. Voters know that and don’t care.
Bush’s problems are not entirely of his own making. When 54 percent of Republican primary voters are backing candidates who have never held public office, it’s hard to run as the scion of an American political dynasty. Moreover, Bush legitimately was a ground-breaking reformer during his tenure as Florida governor — instituting the first statewide school voucher program in the United States and tripling the number of charter schools. Much like former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, his tenure is cited as a model by many of the Republican governors who followed him and implemented successful reforms. If voters were looking for a politician who delivers, he’d be in great shape for the nomination.
But right now, that’s not what Republican primary voters appear to be looking for. The GOP electorate is mad at the political class — and they are just as angry at the GOP establishment as they are the Democrats. Voters elected a Republican House in 2010 and then a Republican Senate in 2014 and found that nothing changed. Now they want someone to shake Washington to its very foundation.
Many — myself included — thought this anti-Washington sentiment would give an advantage to the Republican governors running for president. Since President Obama took office, the number of GOP governors has risen from 21 to 31, the most since the 1920s. And voters also gave many of those new GOP governors Republican legislatures to enact their agendas — turning the states into laboratories for bold, successful conservative reforms. It would make sense that one of those bold, successful conservative reformers would emerge to lead the GOP field.
So far, that has not happened. It turns out that Republican voters are frustrated not just with the politics of Washington, but with politicians in general. Will this sentiment last? Will the current Trump boom peter out, as voting nears and Republicans start taking electability into account? Or is Trump an unstoppable force? The answer is: No one knows.
But this much is certain. Running as a politician who delivers, as Bush currently is, is not a winning formula in 2016. Bush is running a BlackBerry campaign in an iPhone election. He needs to follow the advice of Apple: “Think Different.”