How Jeb Bush Can Thread The Needle And Win

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Since talking about it on Morning Joe earlier today, a few people have asked me to expound on my theory regarding what Jeb Bush would have to do to overcome the many challenges he would face on his way to the Republican nomination.

It seems clear that Bush is hell-bent on not pandering to the base, so the obvious challenge he will have to overcome is winning a Republican primary while holding some positions (immigration reform, Common Core, etc.) which are anathema to the grassroots conservatives who will comprise a decent chunk of the primary electorate.

The way to overcome this is to do two things: First, he simply cannot lecture the base. Now, Bush can and should acknowledge that he disagrees with some conservatives on some key issues — but it can’t be framed in such a way as to suggest that he is more enlightened and they are rubes. (Yes, good leaders persuade, but he can worry about winning the argument after he’s in the White House. For now, he should worry about winning the election.)

Having said that, the other side of the coin is that he cannot back down. Most politicians are really good at either indignation (being tough) or compassion (being soft) — but few (the greats like Ronald Reagan) can do both.

You can be hard-core conservative and soft — or you can be moderate and tough — but you cannot be moderate and soft if you expect to win the nomination. Here, style matters greatly. Therefore, if Jeb wants to sell a more moderate form of conservatism, he has to do it in a tough and forceful manner.

Since we tend to conflate toughness with ideological purity, it is vital for someone advocating moderate or center-right policies to do so in a forceful and confident manner — all without lecturing. And therein lies the problem. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance — between sticking to your guns and lecturing. That’s why this gambit is fraught with danger.

But it can be done — especially at a time when Republicans have lost two presidential elections and, contemplating eight years of Hillary Clinton, are a bit more desperate  for a victory than in 2008 0r 2012. Jeb’s brother George W. Bush, after all, was able to win the nomination — and the presidency — while selling “compassionate conservatism.”