Jeb Bush’s tea party problem

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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If Jeb Bush runs for the Republican presidential nomination, he may face pushback from the tea party — and not just for the reasons you might expect.

With Chris Christie faltering, the former Florida governor is reportedly calling major donors to discuss a possible presidential run. But tea party leaders, both nationally and in Florida, tell The Daily Caller that Bush would have trouble getting their support because of his strong backing of Common Core.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative defines itself as “a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt,” according to its website. So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core’s standards in full, while Minnesota has adopted its English language arts standards.

Conservative critics of Common Core, however, fear it will become a federal takeover of education, complete with a national curriculum. While the National Governors Association was the driving force behind developing the Common Core standards, President Barack Obama’s Department of Education has since become a major advocate.

Laurie Newsom, president of Gainesville Tea Party, told TheDC that Bush’s support for Common Core “will be impossible for him to overcome” if he runs for president.

“[H]e enthusiastically supports the federal educational platform Common Core which seriously taints his political platform,” she said.

Keith Wilson, head of Deland, Florida’s 912 tea party group, echoed Newsom’s position.

“We have done extensive research into Common Core and Jeb Bush has been and still is too involved in it,” he said. “Jeb has been great other than that. It will be as big a failure as Obamacare and Jeb will be blamed for it in Florida by our local groups.”

“His Common Core involvement is going to be a total deal breaker for most in Volusia County,” he added.

Randy McLendon, founder of the Englewood, Florida tea party group Taking Our Country Back, voiced a similar concern.

“The main criticism at this point is his very vocal support of Common Core and his harsh words of criticism for its opponents,” McLendon explained, while noting Bush was “well liked as a [g]overnor.”

National tea party groups also point to Bush’s support for Common Core as problematic.

“In the years after his governorship, Jeb has supported greater government control of school curriculum, rather than allow parents to make the best choice for their children,” Tea Party Patriots head Jenny Beth Martin told TheDC, explaining why she believes tea partiers couldn’t support a Bush campaign for president.

“On Common Core, which is an issue that many tea party folks really care about, he is not only on the wrong side, but he is leading the charge in the wrong direction,” Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, said. “The Common Core issue will probably be a deal killer for the tea party at large.”

Bush’s support for Common Core isn’t the only issue tea party groups bring up as troublesome. While they generally praise Bush’s tenure as Florida governor, tea party critics note Bush’s stance on immigration reform, his ties to the so-called Republican establishment and his last name as obstacles to gaining their support.

“He may have made a better President than his brother, however, I strongly believe we do not need another Bush, anymore than we need another Clinton in the White House,” Bob Duff and Kristin Matheny, co-Leaders of Broward Tea Party, told TheDC in an email.

But in interviews with state and national tea party leaders, it was Bush’s support for Common Core that came up most consistently.

Bush didn’t respond to TheDC’s request for comment, but has repeatedly defended his support for Common Core in the face of conservative criticism.

“There are a lot of people that believe that somehow this is a takeover — a national takeover — of what is the domain of local and state governments as it relates to setting expectations,” Bush said at a press conference last fall, dismissing the campaign against Common Core as “political.” “But in fact these are 45 states that have voluntarily come together to create fewer, higher, deeper standards that when you benchmark them to the best in the world, they’re world class. And I’m for that. That’s what I’m for.”

Bush is hardly the only conservative defending Common Core either.

“Common Core offers American students the opportunity for a far more rigorous, content-rich, cohesive K–12 education than most of them have had,” conservative education experts Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern wrote in the National Review. “Conservatives used to be in favor of holding students to high standards and an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic. Aren’t they still?”

But like many in the tea party, conservative commentators from Glenn Beck to Michelle Malkin to George Will view Common Core as much more insidious.

“In practice, Common Core’s dubious ‘college-ready’ and ‘career-ready’ standards undermine local control of education, usurp state autonomy over curricular materials, and foist untested, mediocre, and incoherent pedagogical theories on America’s schoolchildren,” Malkin argued in her syndicated column last year.

“[W]hat begins with mere national standards must breed ineluctable pressure to standardize educational content,” warned Will in a January Washington Post column. “Targets, metrics, guidelines and curriculum models all induce conformity in instructional materials. Washington already is encouraging the alignment of the GED, SAT and ACT tests with the Common Core. By a feedback loop, these tests will beget more curriculum conformity. All of this will take a toll on parental empowerment, and none of this will escape the politicization of learning like that already rampant in higher education.”

There is a question if any of this tea party opposition even matters. It’s far from clear that Bush needs strong support from the tea party to win the Republican nomination — just ask Mitt Romney.

It’s also unclear exactly how many people who identify with the tea party are adamantly opposed to Bush. Clearly the tea party leadership isn’t particularly excited about his potential presidential candidacy. But a Washington Post/ABC News poll from January showed Bush doing well among both those who somewhat identify with the tea party (second place in the poll behind Wisconsin House Rep. Paul Ryan) and those who strongly identify with the tea party (third place in the poll behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ryan, respectively).

Conversely, Bush came in second to last in TheTeaParty.net’s online poll of 62,000 tea party activists, besting only Chris Christie among potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders.

Regardless, if Bush enters the race hoping to unify the GOP, he will have to persuade those in the tea party grassroots who vehemently oppose him that their opposition to Common Core is wrongheaded — or, at least, that his disagreement with them over Common Core should not be disqualifying.

And Bush has a case to make about his conservative credentials. Outside of Common Core, Bush has long been a proponent of school vouchers. His record as governor is remembered fondly by many conservatives, including most of the tea party activists TheDC surveyed for this story.

Perhaps Bush could begin the conversation with his tea party opponents by pointing to his tea party rhetoric. Long before the tea party came into being, Bush was singing out of its hymnal.

“There would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we can make these buildings around us empty of workers,” he declared in his second inaugural address in 2005,”silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill.”

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