A year ago Jeb Bush was seen as the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination. Twelve months and one brash business personality later, Bush posted a picture of a firearm that had his name engraved on it with the simple caption “America.”
Now, I mean, there is pandering and then there is pandering. This falls into the latter category. What happened to the wonkish, responsible, sensible Jeb, the elder statesman, the most able political operator of the current generation of the House of Bush? That Jeb has been carried away by the same wave that buoys the seemingly unsinkable and logic-proof candidate that is Donald Trump.
This Rising Tide Lowers All Boats Except One
Many conservatives have clearly resonated with Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” as evidenced by his win in New Hampshire and commanding lead in South Carolina. Trump is clearly connecting with conservative voters on a visceral level with his lack of practical policy proposals, glut of xenophobic rhetoric, and “real talk”. Seeing this huge swell of conservative support and panicked by its power, Jeb Bush has seemingly abandoned his moderate roots, posting pictures of firearms on social media and employing the help of his conservative icon brother, former President George W. Bush while campaigning in South Carolina. The fact that Jeb Bush has gotten so desperate, so early is a credit to the strength and passion of Trump supporters who feel that Jeb represents an outdated and overly moderate Republican establishment
But there is one GOP candidate who has not tried to tap into Trump’s angry pipeline of support: Ohio Governor John Kasich. Kasich was rewarded for this with a second place finish in New Hampshire, though it is very doubtful he will do as well in South Carolina. In debates, Kasich comes across as the adult in the room and on the campaign trail he talks about the need for compromise and cooperation, all amounting to the impression of Kasich as a responsible moderate who is trying to run on positivity in an increasingly negative political atmosphere.
Desperate Times Call for Carefully Considered Measures
How and why did Jeb Bush let Kasich co-opt his role as the responsible candidate? Jeb would have been wise to run on his moderate record (like Kasich is doing), but instead he seems to be trying to portray himself as more conservative than his record actually suggests. And he is not fooling anyone.
Jeb Bush cannot trick the public into thinking he is a conservative in the vein of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz with a tweet showing his support for firearms, because he simply is not. His record as governor in Florida combined with his very name betray his establishment-ness. His attempts to seem more conservative than he actually is are weak enough to not convince hardcore conservatives, but strong enough to potentially sway supporters to John Kasich, who is running as a proud moderate and benefits from the lack of baggage that comes with not being a Bush.
Losses in Iowa and New Hampshire have not totally ended Jeb Bush’s presidential aspirations, but if he wants to truly have a shot at becoming the nominee, he would do better to run as the moderate that he is than the passionate conservative he is not.