Florida politically has had another complicated week. Attorney General Pam Bondi was sworn in for a second term after conducting a campaign in the courts against marriage equality that would have made the late Jerry Falwell proud. Senator Marco Rubio has continued to give bizarre and contradictory interviews to whomever will listen and write about him. Congressman Ted Yoho and Dan Webster both made quixotic and embarrassing runs for Speaker of the House while newly-elected Congresswoman Gwen Graham made a bid this week to create a caucus of one off the reservation Democrat in Congress.
By comparison, Jeb Bush looks like a breathe of fresh air, someone who can make Florida look partially sane again. Reubin Askew or Lawton Chiles he is not. He isn’t even Charlie Crist caliber, but he is looking like the adult in the room compared to some of the other “leaders” Florida is producing of late. This isn’t the 1960’s, 1970’s or 1980’s when Florida produced countless high-caliber potential national stars. Instead this is the 2010’s, where Florida’s politics is viewed nationally as a subject of ridicule and fodder for nightly comedy shows.
My views on Jeb Bush’s Governorship are well established and documented. I believe he is the worst modern Governor this state has had. Far more petty and ideological while in office than either Bob Martinez or Rick Scott, Bush’s Governorship transformed Florida into the borderline embarrassing state it has become politically. But Bush suddenly is looking like an adult even though the changes he ushered in for this state have led to a generation of petulance and selfishness in our politics.
Today Bush is strangely sounding like a real grown up, not the arrogant, vengeful ideologically-motivated governor of Florida he once was. Like Ronald Reagan he is tapping into optimistic themes and sounding strangely reasonable. This of course ends when it comes to school “choice” where he still seeks to experiment on Florida’s school kids, using his allies in the legislature to push a dangerous anti-public school agenda. He also is trying to tow as closely to the right on social issues as possible, but is doing so in a less angry and aggressive manner than many of his fellow Republicans.
On immigration, Bush has not tried to parse his words and hedge the way Marco Rubio recently has. Bush’s immigration rhetoric might cause him problems in a primary but also could be a national game-changer should he be nominated. As more and more Hispanics support Democrats all over the country because of this issue over all else, Bush looks increasingly attractive to the party’s establishment wing who is a Presidential election away from total control of the national scene. Republicans now hold a record number of State Legislative chambers around the country and over thirty Governorships, so a Presidential victory could bring sweeping changes to the nation.
A few of Bush’s other new hopeful themes will likely run into trouble with the Tea Party. Included in these are his support of Common Core standards and his continued efforts to strike a more moderate tone on budgetary issues. But looking like a responsible, mature adult who can govern connects him both to his families legacy (Iraq War notwithstanding) and the establishment governing wing of the GOP. At the same time his push on social issues may neutralize some of the concerns among Tea Party types.
Bush’s credibility among Latino voters will give him an opportunity were he nominated in 2016 to reverse the growing Democratic lock on the electoral college. Demographics have turned heavily against the GOP and a Bush nomination may be the easiest way for the party to temporarily stop the bleeding among Hispanics.
For years the Republicans have been a hierarchical party, where insurgent candidates generally fizzle out. That would seem to favor Bush. But being an adult in the room, even if his record as Governor was one of an ideological zealot is a dangerous thing in today’s GOP. But from Florida’s perspective, Bush appearance of maturity and reasonable rhetoric could help change the image of our state which seemingly gets worse by the month.