As the GOP embraces the reactionary politics and anti-government zealotry of the Tea Party, it is steadily purging “moderates” and empowering extremists. Nothing shows this trend more clearly than the lineup of potential Republican presidential candidates. In this new series, we’ll be looking at the records and promises of the Republican Party’s leading presidential prospects. Next up is Jeb Bush:
A favorite among “establishment” Republicans who see him as a “serious” figure who would be competitive in a general election, Jeb Bush is emerging as the favorite of the GOP’s donor class. His brother George W. Bush’s disastrous legacy as president won’t necessarily endanger Jeb Bush’s chances among GOP voters, as the former president holds an 84 percent approval rating among Republicans.
Jeb Bush’s legacy is tied to his brother’s in more ways than their shared name (and advisers). Under Bush’s leadership, Florida purged thousands of people from its voter rolls in the run-up to the 2000 election, disproportionately removing African American voters from its lists of registered voters.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that “black voters were nearly 10 times more likely than nonblack voters to have their ballots rejected” while trying to vote in Florida that year and that “African Americans cast about 54 percent of the 180,000 spoiled ballots,” despite constituting just 11 percent of the voting population. The commission’s report called out Bush and other officials for showing a “lack of leadership in protecting voting rights,” and recommended that the Department of Justice pursue charges against the governor for violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 2004, elections officials working under Bush tried again to conduct a large-scale and faulty purge of the state’s voter rolls, but were rebuffed thanks to the efforts of voting rights advocates.
Like his brother, Bush knows how to appeal to right-wing audiences. Warning that “we have a federal government that is willingly violating the religious freedom of its citizens,” Bush told students at a Pennsylvania Christian college this year that hostility to religious liberty is growing in America as a result of Obama’s leadership. Bush has also been making overtures to top Religious Right figures including Ralph Reed and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore. Bush even tapped a leader of a notorious anti-LGBT, anti-choice group to lead his outreach to the Religious Right.
He is still fondly remembered by the Religious Right for his efforts to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, attempting to defy court orders to remove Schiavo, who had spent years in a persistent vegetative state, from life support.
As governor, Bush also signed Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, a major legislative victory that the NRA used as a launching pad to promote similar bills in other states.
Bush remains a significant player in the movement to boost corporate involvement in education and increase taxpayer support for private and religious schools. He even co-founded a Miami charter school, which eventually shut its doors amidst budgetary amid financial and building troubles. But in a party whose base looks askance at even the slightest veer away from orthodoxy, Bush’s support for Common Core standards and immigration reform may impede his efforts. Glenn Beck, for example, claimed that Bush is among the “progressives in the Republican Party” who are working to undermine the conservative movement from within.
Bush will at least have one wing of the GOP behind him: donors. The former governor is seen as a favorite among the party’s richest backers, a stature cemented by his work for the Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers until its collapse in the 2008 financial crisis and his subsequent job as an adviser for Barclay’s.
Bush’s experience on Wall Street could, however, come back to haunt him, particularly his role in the “Project Verde” operation, in which Bush was sent to solicit Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to bail out Lehman. The former governor’s close ties to Wall Street have helped launch his recent fundraising bonanza.
For a candidate trying to break free from the shadow of his brother, who presided over the 2008 financial meltdown, undermined voting rights, led polarizing initiatives meant to throw a bone to the Religious Right and signed an unpopular education “reform” law, Jeb Bush seems to be mirroring the 43rd president’s agenda rather than proposing new ideas for the country.