Jeb Bush doesn’t need to be a senator. But the Senate could use Jeb Bush.
When the former Florida governor spoke at the National Review Institute’s “Conservative Summit” in January 2007, many in the audience came to the same conclusion: If his surname hadn’t been Bush, he would have had an inside track to the 2008 presidential nomination. 2006 had been a punishing year for Republicans coast to coast — but not in Florida, where candidates proudly identifying themselves as “Jeb Bush Republicans” had held their own. Bush left office with a 60 percent approval rating.
It’s not hard to appreciate why. Florida has no income tax, but Governor Bush found many other taxes to cut. Washington Republicans talked a good fight about smaller government, but Governor Bush cut 11,000 jobs from the government workforce in Florida. His education reforms helped boost test scores, particularly for minority students, and he championed school choice. He even managed to privatize dozens of state services, including Medicaid collections, saving Florida’s taxpayers billions of dollars. (Unhappily, some of that good work has been undone.) He has tremendous energy, executive discipline, and imagination.
That he is the son and brother of presidents probably means the White House is closed to him. But there is much more to Jeb Bush than his family tree, and the presidency is not the only office in which he can serve the nation. We heartily encourage him to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Mel Martinez. There is an opportunity in the Republican caucus for a leader with skill, vision, command of the issues, and a commitment to conservative principles (though Bush could stand to reconsider his advocacy of amnesty for illegal immigrants). He has the right blend of ideas, and the temperament, to join the ranks of such senators as Phil Gramm and Barry Goldwater — standard-bearers who helped rejuvenate conservatism and the party that remains its principal instrument.
He may be wondering whether a Senate run — or a Senate career — is worth the sacrifice of the private life he had envisioned for himself and his family. The Senate is a place for deal making and compromise, and a senator’s powers are nothing like the executive authority of a governor. He would have to learn to be a legislator. But he has a chance to advance the interests of his state and his country, and we hope he’ll take that chance.