Jeb Bush was the lunch-time speaker at the conservative summit today. Kathryn Lopez has a good account of what he said, so I’ll just add my impressions and thoughts.
Bush is a terrific speaker — funny, knowledgeable, and very much at ease. He was also an amazingly successful governor of Florida. 2006 was a terrible year for Republicans. Yet, in something of a swing state, Gov. Bush left office with an approval rating of better than 60 percent. Moreover, with Repubicans running for state office as pro-Jeb, the party had a great year in Florida (putting aside the Senate race, which is a whole different story). With these credentials and qualities, it’s quite likely that (as Ed Gillespie said in his introduction of Jeb Bush) if his name were Jeb Smith, the ex-governor would be in Des Moines or Manchester getting an early start on 2008
All of this invites comparisons to his brother, the president, Jeb himself was having none of this. Doing a spot-on imitation of his father, he said “not going to do it; wouldn’t be prudent.” But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t, particularly since, but for the fact that he was narrowly defeated for governor in 1994, there’s a good chance that Jeb, not his brother, would have become president in 2000 (and with no Florida voting controversy).
In terms of substance, is Jeb different than George W? Judging from the speech (which dealt only with domestic policy) the similarities outweigh the differences. Both have the reform impulse, as manifested by their approaches and views on education, social security, health care, etc. Both are tax cutters — indeed, Jeb says he cut them every year he was governor. Both are social conservatives, but both want to enable illegal immigrants presently in the country to become citizens, and do not want to wait until the borders are secure to do this.
The one apparent difference seems to be on the matter of government spending. Jeb appears to have been significantly more committed to keeping it under control than his brother. To be sure, Jeb didn’t have to worry about defense spending in the face of the war on terrorism. Still, he vetoed so many bills and projects (something like 2,500 projects amounting to $2.3 billion) that he become known as “Veto Corleone.” The president, if I’m not mistaken, is yet to veto his first spending program.
I’m pretty sure that many in the audience of about 500 wished that the former governor were “Jeb Smith” and running for president. But tonight they will get to see a former governor of the same genre who is running. Jeb Bush set a pretty high bar for Mitt Romney.
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