Fundraising letters are a dime a dozen in politics. But when one comes from a potential 2016 candidate and it’s sent to the first-in-the-nation caucus state, Iowa, political antennae jump into action. So, what does Jeb Bush want Iowans to think about him?
First, he, like you, is conservative. The letter opens by referencing the reader’s “consistent support for conservative principles”. Box one, checked,
Second, he is concerned about economic and social mobility. That’s an interesting thing to stress, but it fits right into the sense most Americans below the top 20 percent have.
Third, the problem is government. ”Taxes and debt are too high, entitlements are out of control, regulations are costly and oppressive, Obamacare is massively dysfunctional and costing people their jobs.” Standard Republican economics, box checked.
Fourth, economic growth is key. “If we could increase America’s growth by 2% or more per year, America would be strong again.”
Fifth, he has a plan on how to get more growth. “Radically simplify our tax and regulation structures. Reform our entitlement programs. Stop government from picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Create a patriotic energy policy based on our own resources. Fix our immigration system after first securing the border.” Again, standard GOP fare that unites the base with the establishment.
Sixth, reforming education is key, and he has a proven track record of success as the former Governor of Florida. Like his brother, he’s a reformer with results.
I have my doubts about whether this would be a winning general-election message. As I’ve written before, the combination of cutting Social Security and Medicare (that’s entitlement reform) and cutting taxes for the top bracket, paid for by tax hikes for the upper middle class (that’s comprehensive tax reform, which could be what Jeb means by “simplify[ing] our tax structure”) could be politically toxic in an economic environment characterized by nearly two decades of wage stagnation for most Americans. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that these themes would appeal to the vast majority of Republican caucus goers and primary voters.
Many conservatives will still hold Jeb in suspicion because of his views on immigration and the Common Core. But if this letter is any indication, he’s likely to hit the right notes to appeal to the GOP median voter, that “somewhat conservative” man in the Midwest whose choice has won the nomination in every contest in the last fifty years.
— Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.