There are many conservatives who say that neither of the two Bush presidents ever disappointed them — they got just what they expected.
That being the case, why would they risk a third?
A useful rule in life is, if an item you bought breaks immediately, don’t get another one just like it. If you buy a toaster and it doesn’t work, don’t buy the same model again hoping it will be better. The rule also holds for a bottle of 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild (considered by some to be the greatest claret of the 20th century, to be served only in the finest crystal): If the first bottle has gone off, probably the whole case was left in the sun.
Jeb Bush has spent his whole life in the sun: the acronymically nicknamed John Ellis Bush, second son of President George H. W. Bush, grew up in Texas, went to college in Texas, and then at the age of 27 moved to Florida. Fortunately, by then, air conditioning in Florida was more prevalent even than octogenarians, and there is no reason to assume that Florida sunshine did to Jeb Bush what it would do to a case of ’45 Mouton-Rothschild.
Sun or no sun, however, it is true that birds of a feather flock together and, if they are frugivorous, eat apples, which don’t fall far from the tree. That, in a nutshell, is at the root of conservatives’ problem with Jeb Bush. But it’s also true that not all birds fly together, and that some apples roll their merry way down hills, coming to rest far from the tree that bore them. And true too that God, as conservatives especially should understand, made each of us distinct.
It simply won’t do to say that because Jeb Bush’s father and brother were dreadful (i.e., anti-conservative) presidents, he would be a dreadful president too. That is a form of discrimination — that taxi driver cheated me: I hate taxi drivers; the policeman gave me a ticket: I hate cops — that believers in individuality should neither practice nor condone.
The rejection of Jeb Bush for purely dynastic reasons, however, is more solidly grounded. After electing Franklin Roosevelt four times, the people of this country decided in their wisdom that four terms were too many. Two too many.
To have another four or eight years of a Bush presidency suggests the poverty of the electorate’s collective imagination, of a kind nicely illustrated by the story of the Glaswegian who proclaimed at the end of his speech, “I was born a Scot; I’ve lived a Scot; and I’ll die a Scot!” — to which a booming brogue from the back of the hall replied, “Faith and begorrah, man, have ye no imagination?”
Conservatives look at the country and see a continuing decrease in freedom, caused by ever-growing concentration of authority in Washington, dating from FDR. They know imagination will be required to stop the slide into darkness and start the steep ascent back toward the sunlight. That is why they cotton to candidates who propose structural changes and, inevitably, confrontation with special interests, including public employees.
Senator Rand Paul (R., KY) says he would eliminate the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development — though probably not by executive order.
Senator Ted Cruz (R., TX) wants to abolish the IRS after instituting a flat tax. That position and his visceral anti-Washington bias, displayed in his attempts to shut down the government, will arouse enthusiasm among conservative Republicans.
Governor Rick Perry (R., TX) would also eliminate several cabinet-level departments — as we remember from his … memorable performance in the 2012 debates.
Governor Scott Walker (R., WI) sheared the public employees’ union in Wisconsin, won a recall vote, and then won reelection. Walker, Perry, Cruz, and Paul understand that making changes requires confrontation. But confrontation will attract supporters, convincing them that the candidate indeed intends to make changes.
What does Jeb Bush offer that will attract conservatives? The Miami Herald said his foreign policy closely mirrors that of his brother, former President George W. Bush. His signature domestic issue is education, and it is true that he supports vouchers; but he also supports the Common Core curriculum, which suggests he doesn’t understand the problem of accumulated power in Washington. His position on immigration might be perfect, but it is likely to be misinterpreted (deliberately or otherwise) and is in any event not the central issue. We have not, so far, heard from him a single bold, freedom-promoting idea, without which Jeb Bush (whose salary as a senior adviser to Barclays, the British bank, has been reported as being a million dollars a year) is just Mitt Romney — without the dog on the car roof.
What ails this country is, simply: Too. Much. Government. Unless Jeb Bush can make it crystal clear that he understands that reducing the size and scope of government is the central issue of our time, he will be seen by conservatives as just another, same-model toaster.
Daniel Oliver is Chairman of the Board of Education and Research Institute and Senior Director of White House Writers Group in Washington, DC. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Ronald Reagan, he was Executive Editor and subsequently Chairman of the Board of National Review.