I think that Rich Lowry is right to notice the ways in which Jeb Bush resembles pre-Obama conservatives (like his brother for instance), but I think it is just important way to think of Jeb Bush as a reaction to Obama’s political success. Specifically, Jeb Bush’s strategy is based on how the Republican lobbyist and donor classes interpreted Obama’s 2012 victory.
Basically, the Republican establishment blamed their 2012 defeat on social conservatives and opponents of upfront amnesty for unauthorized immigrants. The Republican establishment asserted that the policy problem with Romney’s failed establishment candidacy was that it did not sufficiently focus on the preferences and priorities of the Republican establishment. That’s very convenient when you think about it.
The Republican establishment did not talk much about the economic weaknesses of Romney’s tax plan (which focused on tax cuts for high-earners). Like Rich Lowry says, Jeb Bush is ready to be critical of the Republican party. But he is much more ready to be critical on the issue of immigration than on an economic program that had a majority of Americans believing that Romney’s agenda primarily benefited the rich rather than the middle-class. Apparently for Bush, the lobbyists, the consultants, and most of the donors, Romney’s economic agenda wasn’t the problem – regardless of what the public said.
This Republican establishment reaction to 2012 can also be seen in how Jeb Bush is reacting to social conservatives. In the 2000 cycle, George W. Bush allied with social conservatives to hold off John McCain’s challenge from the party’s left. Now, Jeb Bush and his circle are talking about the party’s social conservatives as an obstacle to the nomination.
I think part of the confusions is in how we think about who is a real conservative and who is a RINO. Lowry gets to that when he asserts (correctly) that Bush is a conservative (of a kind). Much of the criticism of the Republican establishment gives that establishment both too little and too much credit. Some members of the establishment (like the Barbour clan) really are mercenaries. But Jeb Bush and many others within the Republican establishment are just as legitimately Republican as anybody, just as conservative (in their own way) as anybody, and just as vulnerable to ideological self-delusion as anybody.