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Is Jeb Bush too old school for the new GOP?

By
From page A11 | April 18, 2014 |

Is Jeb Bush’s moment over?

Not in his mind. The former governor of Florida says he’s considering a campaign to become his family’s third president, even though he dreads “getting back into the vortex of the mud fight.”

But as enticing as it is for the Republican establishment to contemplate the prospect of an unexpected comeback, an epic series of primary battles and a cinematic rematch between the Clinton and Bush dynasties, it’s not all that likely.

The Republican Party has changed dramatically since 2002, the last year Jeb Bush ran for office, and not in ways that would aid his candidacy.

Let’s start with Bush’s presumed base of support: the moderate-to-conservative Republican establishment, based in the business community and the donor class. Yes, some of the grandees would like to see the comforting name of Bush atop their party’s ticket again – but not all of them. Many believe that what their party needs in 2016 is a new face, and Bush isn’t that.

“He’s a fine man, but the disadvantages outweigh the advantages,” one thoroughly establishment figure, a former fundraiser for George W. Bush, told me. “The Republican Party is about to turn the page generationally. We need to be looking forward, not back.”

It’s not only a matter of image, he said, but something more fundamental. “He’s out of sync with where the party has gone. This is a party of small government and individual freedom now. Jeb comes from the 1990s, from a generation of governors who mostly wanted to make government more efficient.”

In 2012, Mitt Romney wasn’t his party’s clear first choice either. Romney won the Republican nomination only after he outlasted a series of impromptu conservative challengers: Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, former pizza magnate Herman Cain.

But those other candidates were all underqualified or underprepared. This time, the GOP’s conservative wing has a bench full of potential candidates who have spent years raising money, recruiting supporters and honing messages: Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. There’s no pushover on that list.

Finally, if Bush decides to run for the nomination, he’s chosen an unusual way to do it: poking his finger in the eyes of conservative activists on hot-button issues.

His compassionate statement on illegal immigrants – “It’s an act of love” – got headlines this month.

But that wasn’t as jarring to many conservatives as Bush’s flinty defense of Common Core, the national standards for elementary school education. Tea party activists loathe the program as “Obama-core” and see it as an attempt to impose federal control on local schools (even though it originated with governors like Bush when Barack Obama was still in the Illinois state Senate).

Bush waves their concerns aside with an air of impatient disdain. “The idea that it’s a federal program is just not true,” he told Fox News this month. “I’m totally committed to this. . . . I just don’t feel compelled to run for cover when I think this is the right thing to do for our country.”

Give the man credit for sticking to his guns. When Romney ran into flak from the right, he changed his positions. Bush’s stubborn fidelity to his convictions, by contrast, is admirable. But he’s somehow allowed it to crowd out any other message.

“If you’re running for president, talking about stuff your base doesn’t want to hear is not a surefire way to win,” observed John Feehery, a former aide to the Republican House leadership. “Talk about something else instead.”

Bush isn’t doing that, which, to some Republicans, is one of many signs that he’s not ready for a presidential run yet.

Another is his frequent and candid invocation of ambivalence about running, not normally a sought-after emotion in a party’s electoral champion.

“I go about my business each day trying to avoid having to think about it,” he told Fox News. “I’ve got a fulfilled life.”

A candidate named Bush has additional reason to hesitate. If Jeb runs, one of his first challenges will be to explain how he differs from his father, whom many Republicans remember chiefly for raising taxes, and his brother, who led the country into two wars and a financial crash. If his rivals don’t ask him which of the other Bushes’ decisions he disagreed with, reporters will. That’s how you’ll know he’s really decided to run: when he agrees to answer those unpleasant questions.

It’s not impossible that Jeb Bush could win his party’s nomination in 2016. It would take a decision to run, a clear and visionary message, hard work organizing supporters and raising money, and a grueling gantlet of primaries against – if he’s lucky – divided conservative opposition. But so far, Bush hasn’t stepped onto that well-marked path.

That doesn’t mean he won’t. That GOP grandee I quoted? He demanded anonymity – because he knows he just might end up working for the candidate he criticized.

Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 7 comments

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  • airjackieApril 17, 2014 - 6:20 pm

    Jeb assured his brother won Florida before anyone voted. Jeb made millions in No Child Left Behind federal funding while citizens learned 2 years after he left the grades were fixed. Now Jeb knows the minority vote is needed as it's why Romney lost. Conservatives/Tea Party are up set people of color live in the White House and want a Republican elected. Well history would be made with Jeb as President and a Mexican First Lady. Columbia Bush the daughter of migrants in Mexico and Columbia got her US citizenship by marriage. The White House would have Mexican events and visits from friends/families from Mexico. Columbia would be the first Foreign First Lady the US has ever had.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • PornacApril 18, 2014 - 6:53 am

    Sarah for President!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • SavetheRepublicApril 18, 2014 - 8:08 am

    I still think Sarah Palin is an MK-Ultra, Mind Control... the International Banking Cartel vets all the Candidates both Democrat and Republican... which ones get in the Nationally televised Debates, who gets the campaign money, who gets what advertising, what is reported in the National News, Newspapers, TV, Radio, Magazines, they try to control the Internet reporting also.... Sarah Palin would never have been allowed to be a Vice Presidential Candidate unless she was one of theirs.... the only slight possibility was if even though McCain is definitely an Illuminati choice, he is unstable, and maybe they wanted to make sure he would lose so they gave him a weak vice president candidate, because they really wanted their man Obama in the first time, so if she is not a Mind Control she was just a dupe... and remember Palin met up with Kissinger... a supposed Mind Control Programmer..... Will Sarah Palin tell us that 9/11 was an inside job with the help of top Democrats.... Will Sarah Palin keep up the let's make war on Russia/Iran NEOCON/ DEMOCON (the Democrats are doing it now also with Libya, Crimea, Syria) propaganda.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksApril 18, 2014 - 8:42 am

    StR, to accept your argument one must first accept that Ms. Palin has a mind. There is no evidence to suggest she does so that concludes the discussion.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • JagApril 18, 2014 - 10:49 pm

    I hope Jeb sticks to what he believes and runs on it because he won’t have a chance in hell the party is going to move to the right, Cruz walker

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • The MisterApril 18, 2014 - 7:08 am

    Fight tyranny... No BUSH and no CLINTON in the Whitehouse ever again!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich GiddensApril 18, 2014 - 1:27 pm

    No mention of Columba and Noelle Bush's crimes----smuggling and prescription drug fraud. The news media endlessly promotes and covers for candidates we don't want! The Clintons, the Bush's, The Obamas, the scum!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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