Likely Democratic Party Attack: Bush is Romney, Part 2

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush at Economic Meeting in Detroit/Image courtesy of Right to Rise.

Likely Progressive Attack:
Bush is Romney, Part 2
| published February 9, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff


Mitt Romney may have stepped aside in the Presidential sweepstakes of 2016, in theory, making the path a little wider for Jeb Bush. Weeks ago, after a month of heightened speculation and media buzz, Romney officially set aside his quest—the third in a decade—for that swivel chair in the Oval Office.

The already-crowded field of Republican contenders has lost one possible candidate, and many within the GOP breathed a deep, audible sigh of relief that Romney demurred. But the field is not much smaller, and—some say—it could get even more crowded as more hopefuls enter the fray.  At least a dozen are giving it consideration.

On the surface, Romney’s departure spared the GOP another bruising fight over class, wealth and big money, issues which were certainly factors in Romney’s 2012 loss to President Barack Obama. Romney was too easily cast as a creature of high finance, wealth patronage, “vulture capitalism,” and the general belief that the former Massachusetts Governor was disconnected from the hardships and plights of the average American. Romney was portrayed as a part of the One Percent, and his occasional missteps and gaffes on the economy, poverty, and the struggling middle class pushed him further away from the votes he most needed from that remaining 99%.

In Romney’s recent wide wake—in the week or so after he tried to put further talk of a 2016 candidacy behind him—most political analysts assume, fairly perhaps, that the lion’s share of would-be Romney support would flow most naturally toward Jeb Bush, a popular former Florida Governor now occupying a place in the top tier of GOP hopefuls. Bush and Romney would have drawn political support and on-the-ground muscle from many of the same party loyalists, and in many of the same early primary and caucus states. More importantly, Bush and Romney would have been in a fierce competition for the same high-impact donors—the cash-givers whose contributions would be necessary to fuel any advertising-intensive campaign.

With Romney out of the race, at least for now, Bush benefits mightily from the flow of this support and cash toward his soon-to-be-official candidacy.

But, there are plenty of liberals and progressives who say that Bush inherits something even more inviting: a large economic struggle and class warfare target on his back. Democrats say that Bush will be accused—as was Romney—of being a creature of wealth, privilege, and social disconnect. And what’s more important, they say, is Bush’s track record of close association with Wall Street, which is current news, not ancient history.

Bush’s presumptive strategy all along looks clear and simple on paper: define his candidacy as one of reform, transparency, and the creation of good jobs by enforcing a level playing field of opportunity for everyone. His message to voters who will weigh him as Presidential material: he'll work to invigorate business and stir the energies which create innovation and competitiveness, and he will use education as the key leverage to get the U.S. to that positive tipping point.

This was the basic message Bush used to win election as Florida governor back in 1998, and this—Bush will tell Americans—is what he achieved as governor. Bush’s message will also include clear examples of his ability while governor to work across the aisle, breaking through gridlock in a Sunshine State known for its contentious politics and complex social template. The son of George H.W. Bush is known for his stump speeches which espouse economic growth, linked to new approaches to both education and immigration—two issues he says are inextricably linked to any hope that the U.S. will remain a robust player in the increasingly competitive global economy.

But some Democrat’s see Bush’s legacy in Florida, despite his popularity (Bush was the first Republican to remain in the governor’s office for two consecutive terms), as weak, and see him as an easy target. Bush, they say, has been a partner in many of the same type of private equity and high-dollar investment venues as Romney, and his recent departures from the boards of some of those firms is simply his way of evading future questions or media entanglements. Some of these same Democrats suggest that Bush is vulnerable because of his direct connections to energy and oil companies, and his Britton Hill Holdings, which entered into partnerships on occasion to expedite oil and gas shipments from the U.S. to China. And some liberals already point to Bush’s role in eliminating Florida’s taxes of financial assets as prima facie evidence that he will favor the wealthiest Americans over the middle class or the poor.

But Bush supporters say he is fully prepared for such incoming ordnance. Those who have worked with Bush—and many of those who came in contact with him over the years—say that his heart and head and words are in the same place. An optimist, Bush can be expected to hammer home his messages of educational improvement and immigration reform as central components in his larger theme of economic empowerment.

Bush is also known to be accountable to a fault. This means he does not intend to get mired in complex, byzantine arguments—like those that Romney found himself embroiled—over whether as a businessman he created jobs or lost them, whether he seeded new businesses or stripped them bare of assets. Bush will point to Florida’s long period of economic growth and jobs creation as evidence of his skill at forging a fair and level engine or opportunity. And he will suggest that his once deep interest in oil, gas and energy helped prepare him for the realities of a rapidly-shifting world oil marketplace, as well as the constant need for new forms of energy exploration and innovation.

Furthermore, much of the GOP narrative has shifted over the last six months. Top tier candidates like Bush and his presumptive rivals—Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio—have turned much of their economic talk toward falling wages, the shrinking middle class, and undervalued jobs. Potential Republican candidates have frequently framed their speeches of late within the context of income inequality, an issue they see as the Democratic Party’s primary weakness, and a troublesome reality often overlooked by President Obama. The top GOP candidates have made little secret of their intention to bludgeon Hillary Clinton as being more out of touch than anyone crisscrossing the American landscape: a mega-rich author and lecturer whose feet never touch the ground thanks to limousines and private jets. Republicans sense an opportunity to bring some Main Street-Reaganesque economic values back into the political debate: create an environment which is fertile for business, and you will create jobs; create lots of new jobs, and everyone benefits.

This conversation comes more naturally to Bush, but the fact that the other major players have all adopted the language of economic hardship and income inequality. Bush senses, rightly many GOP strategists think, that these themes will be the dominant draw to bring younger voters and middle income voters back into the Republican fold.

In the meantime, Bush will have plenty of opportunities to size up the ammunition likely to be used against him by Democrats. As the sudden de facto front-runner, he may also begin taking hits from potential candidates within his own party—some of whom are squeamish about the thought of a Bush-Clinton rematch in 2016. The question remains an open one for now: can Jeb Bush avoid the same identity crisis which befell his predecessor back in 2012. Or can Bush cast himself as a guy who knows how to foster a business landscape which creates jobs and income, not one which takes those jobs and paychecks away.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Will Income Inequality Be a Major GOP Theme?; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 26, 2015.

Mitt Romney Says No to 2016 Run; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; January 30, 2015.