Last week, Jeb Bush went to Greensboro, North Carolina, to stump for Thom Tillis, the state House speaker and the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate. This wasn’t a policy seminar or think tank event, it was a party rally and Bush had one job – to give red meat and boost enthusiasm for a flailing campaign.
And he failed. Speaking to an audience of conservative North Carolinians, Bush made the case for immigration reform – “Fixing a system that doesn’t work is a big thing that I think will restore and sustain economic growth for this country” – and voiced his support for Common Core standards, a verboten stance among Republican voters.
That put Tillis in the uncomfortable position of needing to distance himself from his advocate, telling Bush that – on immigration – “You have to make it clear that amnesty shouldn’t be on the table,” and attacking the federal Department of Education as “a bureaucracy of 5,000 people in Washington.”
At every turn, the former Florida governor is hailed as a savior for the Republican Party, and for good reason. But as almost anyone can tell you, there’s a huge step between “good on paper” and good, and, judging from his recent performance, it’s hard to say that Bush stands as a genuinely good candidate. Instead, he seems like a cipher – a vessel for the hopes and wishes of wealthy Republican donors, who fear another cycle of embarrassing candidates and lackluster campaigns.
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The Tillis affair is representative of Bush’s flaws as a candidate. A more talented politician would have tailored his message to his audience.
It’s possible that Bush could abandon this and shape himself into a warrior for Republican conservatism. But I doubt it.
Here are the facts: Jeb Bush has been out of the political game for almost a decade. If there’s a fire that defines a presidential contender, he doesn’t seem to have it.
Yes, Republican elites want a champion. But in Jeb Bush, they don’t have a fighter, they have a Fred Thompson. For a genuine contender, they'll have to look elsewhere.