Quotes of the day

Jeb Bush, who says he is considering running for president, is a strong conservative. As governor of Florida from 1999 through 2007, he advanced conservative goals on taxes, school choice, privatization, racial preferences, the right to life, and many other issues. He did all this and left office popular in a swing state — but one that became more conservative during his time in its politics. And the state’s schools, by all accounts, got a lot better thanks to his efforts.

Many conservatives disagree with Bush on various issues — we certainly do — and have other reservations about his candidacy. None of that should lead any conservative to doubt that he is a friend and ally, and an extraordinarily accomplished one. He deserves a fair hearing, and we intend to give him one.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was accompanied by former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) on his walk to the Senate floor for votes on Tuesday, when he responded to Jeb Bush announcing he’ll “actively explore” a presidential bid.

“I think we have a big tent, and we can use moderates, conservatives, libertarians — we need ’em all,” the libertarian-leaning senator and expected 2016 presidential candidate told inquiring reporters in the Capitol.

Can Bush win the Republican nomination?

“You know, I think the more the merrier. The public will determine that,” Paul said.

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Jeb Bush, who’s seriously considering a 2016 presidential bid, has sprinted to the front of the Republican field in a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

Former GOP nominee Mitt Romney remains on top, with Bush, a former Florida governor, a close second. Take away Romney, and Bush leads the field…

If Romney didn’t run, Bush would lead with 16 percent, followed by Huckabee with 12, Christie with 10 and Carson with 8…

The survey also suggested that hard-core conservatives might make a strong showing. Nearly 2 in 3 people said it was more important to have a Republican presidential nominee who’d stand on conservative principles. One in 3 said it was more important to have a nominee with a good chance of winning.

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“The Bush name is obviously going to be one of Jeb’s biggest hurdles, but it’s also going to be one of his biggest assets,” said Ford O’Connell, another Republican strategist…

Obama has “beat that drum, blaming [George W.] Bush for a lot of the country’s problems, but it hasn’t worked,” Bonjean said. “We now have a Republican Congress and people are tired of him playing the blame game.”…

[Jeb will] be able to leverage his name and family network to raise tens of millions of dollars, and already appears to have a lock on the GOP’s mega-donors.

Bush will also likely be able to count on having the super-PAC Crossroads GPS, which is run by his brother’s svengali, Karl Rove, in his corner. 

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Jeb Bush’s nascent presidential candidacy is predicated on one big bet and one small one. The big bet is that the Great Republican Anti-Government Tantrum is over, and that American conservatism is prepared to revert to a more moderate mission as a force for nimble government, efficient markets, powerful military and acceptance of a minimal social safety net as a necessary hedge against untrammeled capitalism.

The small bet is that Bush himself, and his campaign, will have the character and discipline to hew to principle even after the Republican base discovers his deviant positions on immigration and education, and begins to suspect that Bush can’t be trusted as a vessel carrying the base’s sacred myths…

Unlike Christie and Romney, two guys who talk tough but shrink from confrontation with the party base, Bush seems determined to run as someone who really does call it as he sees it. It’s an admirable stance and perhaps Bush is sufficiently authentic that it’s the only one possible for him. Call it the audacity of hope. For there is no evidence that his party is eager for anything like straight talk.

After all, there’s a reason Romney’s presidential run devolved into caricature a little more than two years ago. He and his strategists concluded that conservative truths and good will were no match for conservative myths and enmities. Romney changed himself to suit the party. Bush appears to be demanding that the party now change to suit him. Audacious indeed.

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Jeb has spent an awful lot of time ripping conservatives to the media – a familiar sight, given that 2008 and 2012 presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney did the same before primary season. In 2012, Jeb told BuzzFeed: 

“Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad – they would have a hard time if you define the Republican party – and I don’t – as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground.”

Similarly, Jeb told The Wall Street Journal CEO Council that any Republican nominee should “lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles.” Just a few weeks ago, Bush visited Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on Capitol Hill, where he heard typical McCain-speak from the 2008 nominee. According to McCain, “I just said to him, ‘I think if you look back, despite the far right’s complaints, it is the centrist that wins the nomination.’”

And just two weeks ago, he encouraged Republicans to stop trying to repeal Obamacare. “We don’t have to make a point any more as Republicans,” he stated. “We have to actually show that we can, in an adult-like way, we can govern, lead.” 

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Bush scores at a 37 on this scale, similar to Romney and McCain, each of whom scored a 39. He’s much more conservative than Huntsman, who rates at a 17.

Still, Bush is more like his father, George H.W. Bush, who rates as a 33, than his brother George W. Bush, who scores a 46. And the Republican Party has moved to the right since both Poppy and Dubya were elected. The average Republican member in the 2013-14 Congress rated a 51 on this scale, more in line with potential candidates Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Mike Huckabee.

So as a rough cut, Bush is not especially moderate by the standard of recent GOP nominees. But the gap has nevertheless widened between Bush and the rest of his party…

And Bush has been more like Hunstman than Romney in explicitly critiquing the direction of his party. That may appeal to general-election voters, but it probably isn’t helpful to him in a Republican primary.

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First, he simply cannot lecture the base. Now, Bush can and should acknowledge that he disagrees with some conservatives on some key issues — but it can’t be framed in such a way as to suggest that he is more enlightened and they are rubes…

You can be hard-core conservative and soft — or you can be moderate and tough — but you cannot be moderate and soft if you expect to win the nomination. Here, style matters greatly. Therefore, if Jeb wants to sell a more moderate form of conservatism, he has to do it in a tough and forceful manner.

Since we tend to conflate toughness with ideological purity, it is vital for someone advocating moderate or center-right policies to do so in a forceful and confident manner — all without lecturing. And therein lies the problem. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance — between sticking to your guns and lecturing. That’s why this gambit is fraught with danger.

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Absent Obama’s actions, Bush could dance around the issue of immigration without betraying his pro-reform leanings—play up the need for border security, play down the urgency of the issue more generally.

But the central question facing Republicans at the outset of the primary will be what the next president should do not about immigration in the abstract, but about Obama’s deportation program specifically. Most candidates will be pledge to end it. To test his formula, Bush will have to promise not just to end it, but to replace the executive actions—which he called “extraconstitutional”—with a more legitimate legislative scheme.

It’s not a replacement, though, if it doesn’t create a legal status for the people who will benefit from Obama’s deferred action plan. And if he pledges to create such a status, the right will abandon him. Faced with such a threat, Bush could just as easily retreat from his compassionate position on the issue. Other Republicans have executed a similar volte-face. But then he’ll just become another Romney-like figure who by his own lights can’t win the presidency.

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As Matt O’Brien points out, the Republican Party has not won a presidential election without either a Bush or a Nixon on the ticket since 1928. Clintons have been running for president on and off since 1992, and Bill Clinton reportedly nearly ran in 1988. The prospect of a sequence of presidents that runs Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama-Clinton/Bush has already created oodles of angst over the prospect of a hereditary duopoly in American politics—interrupted only briefly by Barack Obama, who might easily appear in retrospect as something of a novelty candidate. It’s not quite royalty, one might conclude, but it’s close enough: Isn’t this why colonists fought a revolution to escape the British monarch? It’s no surprise that the prospect would be upsetting, particularly in an age of yawning inequality and calcified social mobility.

Dynasties are nothing new in American politics—just ask the Roosevelts, the Adamses, the Harrisons, the Kennedys, the Tafts, the Udalls, the … you get the idea. But this sort of presidential pattern would be a new degree. Setting aside the worrying effects such a duopoly might have on the republic, what does the nascent duopoly say about where the United States stands as a nation?

More than anything else, it seems to reflect a deep unease about where the United States is, and an even greater fear about where it might be going. Americans see the economy improving, but only slowly and after a lengthy interval. They see that the impact of that recovery is not evenly distributed but in fact accrues disproportionately to the top, dulling its pleasant effects. They see race relations getting steadily worse. On the international stage, they expect China to eclipse the United States as a power, and Russia to draw close. Democrats and Republicans remain hopelessly, infuriatingly divided on a range of issues, but one thing they can agree on is that they’d like to go back in time—if only they could agree on what decade is better: the 1950s or 1990s.

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[T]here are a couple of reasons why the prospect of a Bush versus Clinton presidential campaign should be troubling based on the candidates’ last names and family trees alone. (And setting aside the worldviews and habits of mind they represent; again, more on that to come.) For one thing, there really would be something historically unusual about having the same two families alternate in the American presidency for, potentially, twenty-eight out of thirty-six years. The closest analogue would be the Roosevelts, Teddy and Franklin, who served for about twenty out of the 20th century’s first forty-five years, and they were related in a much looser way, rather than being part of the same marriage or nuclear family. In the main, the American presidency has resisted dynastic control, and the dynasts have tended to be among the less-enduring of chief executives: The Adamses were both one-termers, likewise the Harrisons (a one-monther, in William Henry’s case!), and for all their fame the Kennedys only occupied the Oval Office for the three short years of J.F.K.’s not-entirely-brilliant presidency. And they have also tended to be well-spaced: Twenty-five years from Adams to Adams, more than fifty years between the Harrisons, twenty-four between T.R. and F.D.R.

So it’s hard not to look at Bush-Clinton dominance, however shaped by randomness, as distinctive to our era, and therefore probably somehow connected to stratification and elite consolidation and other non-ideal patterns in American life generally. At the very least, it’s striking how many non-pedigreed men — Truman, Ike, Nixon, Carter, Reagan — won the White House during the golden years of the American middle class, compared to the mix of family ties and Ivy League resumes (dynasty woven into meritocracy, as it inevitably is) that has defined the office’s leading aspirants in recent decades.

And then the office itself, of course, is very different today from the presidency that John Quincy Adams or Teddy Roosevelt or even J.F.K. occupied. The American executive has always had a monarchical element relative to parliamentary systems — which is, again, a good reason to be wary of dynastic capture in our system — but today its effective powers are in many ways more sweeping and expansive than in previous epochs, to the point where even politicians who run against the imperial presidency end up succumbing to its lure. With those kind of stakes involved in who actually holds the office, it is not exactly ideal to have prominent families and their retainers seem like executive branches in waiting (as the Clinton Foundation has appeared to its donors for the last decade), or to have even a sense among the Oval Office’s occupants that the presidency and its powers might be handed on to one’s spouse or child, or to otherwise court the various corruptions to which kin-based governments are heir. The examples, worldwide, of countries where spouses regularly succeed their husbands and sons their parents does not offer a lot of shining examples of republican self-government, and one need not see the Bushes or the Clintons as in any way comparable to the Perons to think that the more extraordinary the powers of an office, the more you’d like to see its occupants share as few ties, especially blood-and-marriage ties, with their recent successors as possible.

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As it stands, the Republican party has not won a presidential election without a Bush on the top of the ticket since 1984, and it has not won the presidency without a Bush somewhere on the ticket since 1972. If Jeb were elected president, it would be the case that, for three decades, one family had been in charge of the country each and every time the electorate moved in its party’s direction. What, I wonder, would that say about conservatism? And what, I wonder, would it say about America writ large if, 36 years after George H. W. was first sworn in as vice president, the Right concluded that the only way that it could credibly win power was to tap into the same, oft-pumped well?…

As the days roll on, I am increasingly of the view that if Republicans are going to win the White House in 2016, their candidate will have to run as an insurgent. In my ideal world, the GOP’s choice would present himself to the public as a breath of fresh air after the fractious and moribund Obama years; he would cast his philosophy as an alternative to a progressivism that is intellectually exhausted, unbearably arrogant, and increasingly frivolous; and, as far as is humanly possible, he would sell himself to swing voters as the rightful torch-bearer of dynamism itself. Without being too obvious about it, then, the Republicans’ candidate will need to advertise his youth, and to contrast it with his opponent’s wear and tear; he will need to make it clear that, in government at least, the Left has no monopoly on women and minorities, and that its ideology is marked by irreconcilable contradictions; and he will have to simultaneously cast the Obama administration and its champions as irresponsible despoilers of vital American traditions, without permitting his defense of classical liberalism to be mistaken for a defense of the status quo. In other words, he will need to be the candidate of both sober responsibility and of forward-looking change: one part ascetic fixer-upper, one part Space Age futurist, with a little Patrick Henry thrown in for good measure.

Further, he will have to run not only against the last eight years, but against the last 16 – a considerable challenge, and one that can only be met by someone who is flexible enough to explain what the last Republican administration got wrong without alienating his supporters too badly. The brother of the last Republican president, suffice it to say, cannot do this.

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