Jeb Bush was a highly effective conservative governor of Florida: cutting taxes, reducing the state work force, instituting school choice, and generally pulling the state’s politics to the right. (It may be a swing state, but it has elected only Republican governors since he was in office.) Now that he is officially running for the Republican nomination, he will need to remind primary voters of that record. But he will have to do more than that to show that he is the right man to lead conservatives now. They, and we, will be looking for the answers to some questions from his campaign.
Does he intend to raise taxes? He praises his father’s tax-raising deal from 1990. He refuses to take the pledge in opposition to tax increases that Americans for Tax Reform asks Republican candidates to take, saying that he will not take any group’s pledges and that his tax-cutting record should speak for itself. If he thinks that the federal government has enough revenue as it is, he need not sign the pledge: He can simply say that he will not raise taxes. If he refuses to take that step, Republican voters will be justified in doubting his commitment.
Will he insist that immigration laws be enforced before illegal immigrants get legal status? He says so, but some of his rhetoric creates reason for doubt. He says, fairly enough, that many illegal immigrants are motivated to come here by their love for their families. Any workable immigration policy will, however, involve turning away many people motivated by familial love.
What will his support for Common Core mean in practice? He says that states should pick their own high standards without interference from the federal government, and he specifically abjures the use of federal money and regulatory relief to bend states to the Department of Education’s will. What will he do, though, to restrain that department, and what alternative mission will he give it?
How does his executive experience differentiate him from Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal? His announcement speech hints at an answer: Florida’s economy thrived under him.
How does his executive experience differentiate him from Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal? His announcement speech hints at an answer: Florida’s economy thrived under him. But voters are probably aware that the circumstances of 1999–2007 were better than those more recent governors have faced.
Has he learned the right lessons from the Iraq war? Discussion about it has focused unproductively on pre-war intelligence. But where does Bush stand on his brother’s foreign-policy doctrine? That doctrine rightly identified the spread of freedom as an American interest — but overestimated our ability to superintend that spread, especially amid chaos. Does he see it that way?
Can he persuade voters that he is not just like past Republicans, including his father and brother? Bush, like most of his rivals, has not yet outlined a policy agenda. In his case, though, it is especially important to devise one that makes voters give him a fresh look. He need not bash his family, of course, but he does need to tackle some issues that past Republicans often neglected. That includes his brother — but it also includes Mitt Romney.
Bush has said that Romney erred by not conveying how much he cares about people. But voters may have been reacting to an agenda that didn’t have much to say to them as much as they were to Romney’s personality. Making the case for free-market reforms of health care and higher education, in particular, would counter the impression that Republicans are a club of out-of-touch rich people.
These are not impossible tests, especially for someone as talented and capable as Governor Bush. We look forward to hearing his answers.