Jeb Bush, who says he is considering running for president, is a strong conservative. As governor of Florida from 1999 through 2007, he advanced conservative goals on taxes, school choice, privatization, racial preferences, the right to life, and many other issues. He did all this and left office popular in a swing state — but one that became more conservative during his time in its politics. And the state’s schools, by all accounts, got a lot better thanks to his efforts.
Many conservatives disagree with Bush on various issues — we certainly do — and have other reservations about his candidacy. None of that should lead any conservative to doubt that he is a friend and ally, and an extraordinarily accomplished one. He deserves a fair hearing, and we intend to give him one.
About those disagreements: Bush seems to us to underestimate the risk that providing legal status for illegal immigrants will encourage more illegal immigration, and to be simply wrong, as well as out of step with public opinion, in thinking that the country should increase legal immigration levels. His support for raising educational standards is laudable, but his idea that a push for nationally uniform standards is the right way to achieve this goal is misguided. And while we would be well disposed toward a budget deal with ten dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases, we do not see that it serves any useful purpose for Republicans to speculate about bargains that are not on offer.
The reservations are as well known as the disagreements. Bush will have to prove that he has not gotten rusty in the twelve years since his last election. And many Americans will not, as they should not, like the idea of entrenching a presidential dynasty.
Conservatives who share our admiration and our concerns will have to decide how much weight to put on each of these points. They should also assess how convincingly Bush explains the ways that conservative governance can meet the country’s internal and external challenges — and can avoid the mistakes, from overspending to placing too much emphasis on the economic concerns of big business, that have too often characterized Republicans in office.
These are the criteria we will apply to Bush if he runs, and to his rivals as well, in the hope that the competition will, as it so often does, serve the national interest.