Jeb Bush has tapped a leading member of the “reform conservative” movement, longtime Capitol Hill veteran and policy director of the YG Network April Ponnuru, as a policy adviser. Ponnuru, who also happens to be the wife of National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru and a former vice president of NR and executive director of NR’s non-profit arm, the National Review Institute, was one of the Republican intellectual leaders profiled in Sam Tanenhaus’s New York Times Magazine piece last July, which asked bluntly, “Can the GOP be a party of ideas?”
In her post at the YG Network, Ponnuru has been working with others in the reformocon movement, as it’s known among political insiders, to make sure the answer to that question is yes. Along with Ramesh and others from Yuval Levin at National Affairs, Peter Wehner at Commentary, and Jim Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute, among others, they have been attempting to generate policy solutions that address the problems of the 21st century, from stagnant middle-class wages to the rising costs of higher education. The YG Network, named for the self-professed “young guns” of the Republican congress – former House majority leader Eric Cantor, current majority leader Kevin McCarthy, and Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan — was once flush with money but has been less so since Cantor’s primary loss in June.
Wehner says Ponnuru’s role at the YG Network was “vital” to the reformocon movement. There, she helped to publish Room to Grow, a collection of essays that also serves as a manifesto of sorts for the conservative wonks and their ideological project. He calls her hire a “reassuring sign for conservatives.” Ponnuru will retain an advisory role at the YG Network while working on the Bush campaign.
Her hire not only underscores Bush’s longstanding interest in policy, but indicates that he wants to be an ideas candidate. While he has been out of politics for the past several years, the reformocons, and Ponnuru, are very much on the cutting edge of the conservative movement. Bush, according to Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel, took a break from fundraising to meet with several of them, including Ponnuru and Wehner, in January. While most of the reformocons remain uncommitted — they are offering their advice to anybody who comes knocking — Bush has succeeded in making a prominent hire.