The Campaign Spot

Eventually, Jeb Bush Will Need to Claim He’s the Conservative Candidate

Yesterday I mentioned that immigration reform and Common Core could represent huge issues of contention between Jeb Bush and conservative Republican primary voters — and yet that when he was governor, one of Bush’s crusades was a key priority of conservatives, school choice:

Over at Politico, S. V. Date asks how the heck Jeb Bush became to be perceived as the moderate in the GOP field:

For those of us who covered Jeb’s two terms in Tallahassee, this is beyond mind-boggling. On issue after issue, Jeb’s track record in Florida pushed conservatism’s envelope to the breaking point. For anti-tax conservatives, Jeb slashed the state’s collections by a cumulative $14 billion over his eight years. For the devoted sub-set of supply-siders: The bulk of these cuts came via the complete repeal of Florida’s decades-old wealth tax on financial instruments. It pretty much had been the only progressive tax the state had, since Florida’s constitution forbids an income tax.

For anti-spending conservatives, Jeb line-item vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars in hometown projects from the state budget year after year.

For small-government conservatives, Jeb eliminated thousands of jobs by outsourcing huge swaths of state duties, including the massive human resources function and the state purchasing office.

For law-and-order conservatives, Jeb championed tough-on-crime bills like “10-20-life” for gun offenders and three-strikes legislation for repeat offenders. He jammed through the legislature a death-penalty overhaul drastically limiting appeals for condemned inmates (it was soon afterward struck down, however, by the Florida Supreme Court).

For pro-gun conservatives, Jeb approved an enhanced concealed carry law and, infamously, the NRA-written “Stand Your Ground” law. (After Trayvon Martin, Jeb said he did not believe it should have been applied in that instance.)

For religious conservatives, Jeb rammed through education bills that created the first statewide school voucher programs in the nation, and then spent years defending them against oversight attempts. He approved the “Choose Life” license plate, and sent state money to groups that counseled women against having abortions. And, famously, he pushed through legislation allowing him as governor to intervene in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case—and at the very end nearly triggered a showdown with a local judge by sending state police officers to seize her from a Tampa Bay area hospice.

With all this on his resume, Jeb Bush is now considered a moderate? A RINO? What more can conservatives want?

Despite Bush’s declaration yesterday that “I kinda know how a Republican can win, whether it’s me or somebody else — and it has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more wiling to be, ‘lose the primary to win the general’ without violating your principles,” it is very hard to believe Bush would or could run for president by explicitly renouncing the conservative base of the party. At some point, Bush will, either by choice or necessity, attempt to claim the mantle of the conservative candidate. The big question is whether grassroots conservatives, feeling their country is under assault by a destructive, aggressive progressivism, will be reassured by policy achievements from 1999 to 2007.

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