A Wall Street Journal piece yesterday outlined the dilemma Jeb Bush faces to convince the GOP faithful, commonly known as Primary Voters, that he is, indeed, conservative enough for them.
The article’s headline declares: “Jeb Bush Facing Resistance From Some Conservative Voters.” I don’t think that quite captures the results of the WSJ/NBC News poll (whose full results will be published at 6:30 pm on Monday). It cites that “42% couldn’t see themselves supporting Mr. Bush for the GOP presidential nomination.” In my calculus, forty-two percent is well north of “Some” because “Facing Resistance” is more akin to open rebellion than mere disapproval.
The results underscore an early theme of the Republican nominating contest: Mr. Bush might be the favorite of many top donors and operatives, but he faces hurdles in appealing to the party’s voters, giving him little room to maneuver in what promises to be a crowded field.
This has all the makings of a classic “Management vs. Labor” dispute. GOP Management (top donors and operatives) are centering on their manager. But the party’s Labor force—grassroots operatives, volunteers and small-dollar sweat equity donors—seem heels-dug-in firm not to go along. Elephants, it is said, have long memories, and the grassroots well know that being fed a steady diet of centrists (Dole, McCain, Romney, et al) hasn’t translated into electoral success. Is this fair given Mr. Bush’s record as Governor?
As Mr. Bush gears up for a likely presidential bid, the former Florida governor has been telling voters, donors and activists that he compiled a conservative record in office, touting his efforts to lower taxes, cut spending, promote school choice and end affirmative action for state universities, among other steps.
Yes, he did all those things as Governor. But what may be worrying the party Laborists is simply time—that was then, this is now. What Mr. Bush’s conservative record shows is that he managed well one of the largest states in the union. But what his Florida record doesn’t account for is his record since leaving office. To wit, full-armed advocacy of the despised Common Core, and his support for immigration reform, which grants a form of ‘amnesty’ to those came here illegally. Both are non-starters for most Primary Voters and Mr. Bush will need to do more than explain them away as misunderstandings.
Why? Because at the end of the day he also faces an electoral climate in which the Presidency has been re-defined, the relationship between citizen and government eroded to distrust, the voice of the people in the very act of self-governance silenced, and the existential threat of ISIS and its agents worldwide now residing among us. Test scores and green cards pale in comparison.
The GOP Management appears to be yearning for a manager while Labor seems to be searching for a leader. Can the two co-exist? Can Mr. Bush surmount the difference? Only time will tell.
Clint Cline is the president of Design4, a messaging and media firm with offices in Florida and Washington, D.C.