Anyone who dips a toe into the political pool at a high level has to be ready for some critics who will give them a hard time at public event. The most popular politicians will run into the occasional heckler, and if you’re really special you may have shoes thrown at you. But it really takes something special to draw boos and groans at an event where you don’t even show up.
A mention of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), a potential 2016 presidential contender, brought boos from a conservative crowd in New Hampshire on Saturday.
Speaking at the New Hampshire Freedom Summit, a gathering of conservative activists and figures organized by Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United, billionaire Donald Trump said Bush’s recent comments on immigrants coming to the U.S. as an “act of love” were “out there.”
“You know, I heard Jeb Bush the other day,” he said, with quiet boos and angry murmurs erupting from the crowd at the mention of Bush’s name.
“And he was talking about people that come into this country illegally, they do it for love,” he continued, with the boos growing louder.
I’m not sure if this is more a story about Jeb Bush or New Hampshire. (For the moment we’ll leave aside the somewhat ironic image of Donald Trump acting skeptical about somebody else running for President.) Granite State Republicans are well known experts at defying expectations, something I found out about first hand during the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference earlier this year. While the talking heads on cable news and the big GOP fundraisers were all about Scott Brown, the locals I spoke with were lukewarm at best concerning his run. Jeb Bush seems to be running somewhat parallel to that at the moment, with so many national pundits anxiously debating whether or not he will run while the primary voters in New Hampshire are hissing at the mere mention of his name.
Of course, it’s not as if there’s unanimous consent outside of New Hampshire either. Rupert Murdoch is just about as Ready for Jeb as the Democrats seem to be Ready for Hillary. At the same time, Jeb’s own niece (Jenna Bush Hager) isn’t exactly waiting for an invitation to her uncle’s inaugural ball.
But as for this event, maybe that’s what the Freedom Summit was really all about. It was never intended to clarify Bush’s prospects for 2016. In fact, as one New Hampshire Journal writer put it before the event began, the point was precisely the opposite.
The big draws on the presidential front are Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky as well as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. There will be no Jeb Bush and no Chris Christie. No one conventionally identified with the more moderate (relatively speaking) GOP “establishment.”
At some point down the road there will be an establishment candidate. The day-long event on Saturday will begin to define what could be a long battle to become the conservative alternative to whoever emerges from the establishment wing.
In 2012 it was all about who was going to be “Not Mitt.” Maybe Jeb benefits from having people already looking at who will be “Not Jeb” this time.