In New Election, Jeb Bush Stakes Out the Middle Ground
WASHINGTON — When former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida quietly visited Senator John McCain in his Capitol Hill office this fall, discussion turned to a subject of increasing interest to Mr. Bush: how to run for president without pandering to the party’s conservative base.
“I just said to him, ‘I think if you look back, despite the far right’s complaints, it is the centrist that wins the nomination,’ ” Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, said he told Mr. Bush.
In the past few weeks, Mr. Bush has moved toward a run for the White House. His family’s resistance has receded. His advisers are seeking staff. And the former governor is even slimming down, shedding about 15 pounds thanks to frequent swimming and personal training sessions after a knee operation last year.
But before pursuing the presidency, Mr. Bush, 61, is grappling with the central question of whether he can prevail in a grueling primary battle without shifting his positions or altering his persona to satisfy his party’s hard-liners. In conversations with donors, friends and advisers, he is discussing whether he can navigate, and avoid being tripped up by, the conservative Republican base.
Asking President John McCain for advice on how to win? Great Idea!
Actually, 2008 does provide the template on how Bush can win the nomination while running as a non-conservative, because it’s how McCain did it that year — A whole conga line of conservatives or pseudo-conservatives will get into the race in order to pad their resumes or satisfy their egos. They’ll split the conservative vote, and the media-favored “moderate” will win almost all of the early primaries and caucuses with 25-30% of the vote, but get all of the delegates from those states because of winner-take-all. Eventually, the media-favored “moderate” keeps on ekeing out so many wins with laughably puny plurality percentages but gathers such a big delegate lead combined with the media mindshare that opposing him eventually becomes futile, and everyone else either literally drops out or quits campaigning, meaning the media-favored “moderate” will win the later primaries with landslide percentages.
The party’s establishment elites and some longtime advisers to Mr. Bush are urging him to remain steadfast on his positions, especially on immigration, if he runs. They are convinced that Mitt Romney ruined his chance to win in the fall of 2012 by veering too far to the right during the primaries, turning off general election voters as a result.
I can forgive people for not being adept at the relatively obscure political history that happened before they were born, but self-styled political experts should know a lot better about the political history of not even three years ago. Willard Romney never veered to the right at all. He never won a single Southern primary or caucus while Gingrich and/or Santorum were viable; in fact, in Alabama and Mississippi, Romney finished in third place behind both. Romney won the nomination by being the favored Republican candidate of Republican voters in blue states and of Republican voters in blue counties in competitive states. What he didn’t realize is that blue states and blue counties are blue because they have more blue voters than red voters, so while he could easily win Massachusetts or New Jersey or Wayne County, Michigan or Cuyahoga County, Ohio in the primary season, they were inevitably going to be blue in November because they have way more many Democrat voters than moderate Republican voters. Meanwhile, Alabama and Mississippi were right there for Romney in November, and while Romney didn’t win Ohio or Michigan in the fall, just about all the Santorum counties in the spring in those states were Romney counties in the fall.
One thing that became perfectly clear in the 2012 aftermath is that Romney’s inability to sell himself to white Southerners in the spring was a very good proxy of the problems he would have in selling himself to non-Southern white working class voters in the fall.