Will Jeb Bush flunk the Republican primaries’ Common Core test? Bush’s confirmation that he is seriously mulling a presidential bid abruptly thrusts the GOP debate over Common Core onto the national stage
No Republican is tied to Common Core in the way Jeb Bush is. The governor, through his leadership of the non-profit Foundation for Excellence in Education, played a notable role in the creation and promotion of the standards and he has stood by them ever since. At an education reform conference in November, his keynote address included a firm defense of the Core, which he said ought to represent “the new minimum” for academic standards in the U.S.
That support means that Common Core is, with the possible exception of immigration, Bush’s greatest vulnerability. That education should become Bush’s Achilles heel is a surprising turnabout. During Bush’s tenure in Florida, test scores rose significantly, and he was among the country’s most aggressive supporters of both school vouchers and charter schools, both of which remain popular on the right. He took the lead in pushing for tougher school standards, which has also been a frequent Republican position.
All of that, however, is being overshadowed by Common Core. An October Gallup poll found that nearly 60 percent of Republican parents oppose the standards while under 20 percent support them, and the numbers have been steadily getting worse. With Bush beating out every other potential primary opponent except Mitt Romney in recent primary polls, the pressure to constantly attack him is irresistible.
Just hours after Bush’s statement that he may run, Rand Paul’s PAC, RandPAC, purchased Google ads to run alongside Bush-related searches, which encouraged web surfers to support “leaders who will stand against common core [sic].” The senator himself predicted Tuesday on “The Kelly File” that Common Core will be a heavy burden for Bush in the primary.
“For Jeb Bush to run in the primary will be very, very difficult because if you’re going to be for a national curriculum and for Common Core and for No Child Left Behind, this accumulation of power in Washington, that’s not very popular,” said Paul.
That prediction appears to be one shared by other prospective Republican candidates, most of whom have taken pains to attack the Core and disavow any prior support. In the Senate, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have joined Paul in declaring their opposition, even though Congress’s connection to Common Core is essentially nonexistent.
At the state level, Gov. Scott Walker is urging Wisconsin legislators to replace the standards as soon as January rolls around. The most aggressive one of all is Louisana’s Bobby Jindal, who actively pushed for Common Core’s adoption just four years ago but is now locked in combat with state Republicans over his effort to eliminate the standards through a series of executive orders and lawsuits.
With so many Republicans eagerly attacking him over Common Core, it may seem like Bush’s candidacy is fatally compromised before it has even officially begun. But with so many Republican leaders rushing to attack Common Core, Bush may benefit from the same political forces that helped Mitt Romney in the 2012 cycle when he came under fire for his involvement in Romneycare.
There are many possible candidates feuding to be the anti-Jeb Bush, but there is currently only one Jeb Bush. In a multi-faction Republican primary, Bush may be able to divide and conquer, winning the support of pro-Common Core groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce while his opponents battle among one another for the support of anti-Core activists.
Another potential factor which could lessen Common Core’s sting is the 2015 legislative session.Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, set to become chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has as his top priority a significant revision of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
NCLB requirements such as annual standardized tests have allowed the Obama administration to become more involved with Common Core than it otherwise could have, because Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has used promises of NCLB requirement waivers and increased federal funding as incentives to adopt and keep the Core.
Those incentives have greatly amplified grassroots Republican claims that Common Core amounts to the nationalization of education. If a Republican-led reform of the NCLB eliminates these incentives while substantially reducing the requirements placed on state and local schools by the feds, then the fury against Common Core may dampen as well, as the narrative of a federal takeover is allowed to fade away.
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