Speaking to reporters about education in Florida on Tuesday, Jeb Bush said in an honest moment that “it’s gonna be hard to teach this dog new tricks.” Unlike the other candidates in the GOP primary however, Bush doesn’t have to.
In the past few weeks Bush has adroitly handled gaffes one after another that brings to mind the Teflon-like cast of Ronald Reagan with methodical gestures of muted contrition.
When pressed about his high school days, Bush owned up to his pot smoking but denied the bullying charges, and the subject was dropped. The chief technology officer of Bush’s Right to Rise Political Action Committee was swiftly forced to resign after it was discovered that he had made politically incorrect remarks on social media.
When it was pointed out the 8 years worth of emails Bush released from his time as governor in the name of “transparency” contained private information from his constituents, his team apologized and redacted the sensitive details within a day.
Bush has rarely marketed himself as a sincere, populist candidate, and his supporters have never treated him as anything more than an establishment politician with the financial backing to deliver tax cuts and scale down the size of government. A Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of Iowan Republicans found that Bush’s top attribute out of five choices was his perceived ability to beat Hillary.
“All too often we’re associated with being “anti everything,” Bush reportedly said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013. “Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted, and unwelcome in our party.”
Whereas Scott Walker is at pains to explain his positions on immigration reform or evolution, Bush confidently doles out contradictory answers. He thinks more immigration is needed to revitalize the American economy and restore the American Dream, but espouses that the president’s executive action is unconstitutional, a minority position among legal scholars.
Only a few eyebrows were raised when the president’s former campaign advisor David Axelrod said that Obama had lied in 2008 about his position on gay marriage, and even fewer still when Bush backtracked his stance on gay marriage in January within a single day.
Bush said after a court overturned Florida’s gay marriage ban that the issue should be a “local decision,” on Jan. 4, then said the next day that “we should respect the rule of law” and pay respect for “the couples making lifetime commitments to each other.”
Jeb Bush’s moderate views are a known quantity, and polls show that a large number of Republican voters say that he’s too moderate for their taste, but he still remains the GOP front-runner, trailing behind Scott Walker in some states only in recent weeks, usually within the margin of error, and his popularity is stable. If any primary candidate takes a sudden plummet in the polls, it won’t be Jeb.