With former Florida Governor Jeb Bush “actively exploring” a run for president, much of the initial analysis centers on the question if he is too moderate to win the Republican primary.
The more important question is if Jeb is too conservative to win the general election.
It’s true Jeb has taken positions that will complicate his primary campaign. He was supportive of the Senate immigration reform bill and is a big backer of the Common Core education standards, which the right lambastes as federal government intrusion into local schools. He once dared to say he’d accept a budget that included $1 of tax increases for every $10 of spending cuts, a stance which doesn’t really qualify as “moderate,” but more accurately could be described as “mathematically literate conservative.”
But if he survives the primary, he’ll have a whole new set of problems to worry about.
No, not merely his last name. Jeb Bush will have the ability to distinguish himself from his brother’s failed presidency, if he chooses. They don’t look alike and they don’t sound alike. And Jeb will likely pick spots of his brother’s record to criticize and show he’s his own man.
But what Jeb can’t run away from is his own record.
For example, as Politico Magazine recently reminded us: “Jeb slashed the state’s collections by a cumulative $14 billion over his eight years … 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.”
It’s not that Jeb cut taxes. It’s that he cut taxes for wealthy investors – the same policy of his brother’s which failed to create jobs and artificially widened the country’s wealth gap.
President Obama won two elections on the promise of repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, a pledge which he fulfilled. Why would the nation want to unravel that achievement, at a time when the wealthiest have recovered just fine from the 2008 market meltdown and have plenty of capital to invest in whatever they choose?
Speaking of the 2008 crash, Jeb was squarely in the middle of it.
As Salon’s Jim Newell explains: “Bush left the Florida governor’s office at the beginning of 2007 and became an adviser to the Lehman Brothers investment bank. Lehman is famous for collapsing overnight and nearly sparking the end of global civilization. Jeb was basically kept around to use his family connections when the thing fell apart, and he apparently couldn’t even do that well.”
At a time when the public remains distrustful of Wall Street and wants the government to keep them in check, Jeb will be hard pressed to explain why we should trust the anti-regulation views of someone who profited while the ship was sinking.
Jeb also signed the infamous “Stand Your Ground” gun law, which in Florida has been a factor in more than 130 fatal shootings. His meddling, and his brother’s, in the Terri Schiavo case horrified the nation at the time, reminding voters that conservatives are perfectly fine with using government to interfere with personal decisions when it suits their own agenda.
Because these aspects of Jeb’s record do track closely with his brother’s, his nomination would provide the opportunity to ask voters: Do you want to turn the clock back? Do you want to go back to handing out cash to the top 1 percent and assuming they will make the economy work for everyone? Do you want a government that defers to CEOs but makes it harder for you to make your own personal moral decisions, or if you are a person of color, to walk down the street safely?
Predicting the political future is a tricky business. We can’t know how the economy or our foreign policy will be perceived by 2016, let alone how to nominees would react to developing events.
But there is plenty of Jeb Bush’s record to suggest he would have serious difficulty defending it in the swing states that rejected both Sen. John McCain and former Gov. Mitt Romney, and put Barack Obama in the White House twice.