Governor Jeb Bush has always been a politician with a short fuse and a certain observable sense of entitlement. As Governor, Bush conducted himself in a manner that exuded arrogance, self-righteousness and an all-knowing attitude. When reporters challenged him, he would snap in public, When members of the legislature attempted to meet with him on his policies, he would use various means including security guards to his advantage as he did with the Affirmative Action issue in 2000. When activists questioned him about education he would talk down to them in a condescending manner, often berating teachers and parents for accepting “mediocrity”.
The Bush years were a miserable time to be active in Florida politics from any perspective except that of a Bush loyalist. Jeb Bush’s personal tenor was different that that of his brother, President George W. Bush. President Bush was often willing to sit down with opponents of his policy and political agenda and hammer out some sort of agreement – not a compromise but a broader agreement. Unlike Florida Governor Bush, President Bush did not antagonize large numbers of elected officials in his own party with his style. Certainly President Bush lost many Republicans eventually on policy, particularly immigration, government spending and Iraq.
All of this explains why watching Bush’s exchange with a college student regarding ISIS this week was not surprising. Bush doesn’t like to be questioned or challenged on issues. His “vision” for Florida was never debatable which explains why he consistently faced rebellions from legislators in his own party throughout his tenure, especially beginning in 2001. His interpretation of history is not open to discussion or debate.
Unlike his brother, Jeb Bush is not the type of man average voters would “like to have a beer with.” Nor was he the type of person that wonkish policy-types necessarily wanted to have a conversation with. Nonetheless, his political appeal and understanding of Florida’s electorate was the best in his era.
The Bush of Florida fame was a man of great political skill. He had an ability to use his arrogance and intelligence to his benefit in convincing voters that he really was uniquely qualified to lead our state. Much of the capital press corp remained skeptical (bordering on openly hostile at times )of Bush throughout his time in office but he smartly cultivated the state’s political writers which created highly favorable coverage of his exploits on the stump.
Much of the praise of Bush’s political skill when campaigning and interacting with audiences was real. The son of a President who was never very natural at political events, Jeb Bush showed a gift when on the stump and mixing with crowds particularly in his hometown of Miami.
But this week, we have seen a rustiness in Bush that reminds us he last appeared on a ballot in 2002. His handling of Megyn Kelly’s question regarding Iraq and then the subsequent fallout from his embarrassing answer demonstrated a lack of cutting edge or quick spin for the social media world that Bush will need if he is even to get past New Hampshire. Highly-touted candidates in both parties have fizzled early and not made it past Iowa or New Hampshire before. While Jeb Bush’s profile and family ties make him a unique first-time Presidential candidate, his name and campaign rustiness might make him the John Connally or Phil Gramm of 2016.
Bush’s arrogance and short temper are unlikely to serve him well in the world of constant cattle calls and public events. His probable inflexibility as a candidate in style and substance stand in contrast to Florida’s other candidate, Marco Rubio, whose evolving political profile shows a pragmatism as a campaigner and speaker coupled with a temperament which seems more suited for high office. This having been stated, Rubio’s C.V. pales in comparison to Bush’s or the rest of the serious GOP field – Rubio is the LEAST qualified first or second tier candidate running in either major party. But as voters clamor for something different, Bush’s approach may be destined for fall short of the mark Rubio is setting as a candidate.
The condescending nature in which Governor Bush has continued to conduct himself publicly might remind voters of his father’s patrician roots while the constant need to defend his brother’s foreign policy could very well revive the Bush fatigue that overwhelmed the national Republican Party as early as 2007 and continued up until Jeb Bush became a top tier Presidential contender.
Jeb Bush looks like a sure loser at this point in time. But politics turns on a dime as does public opinion. The question is whether the arrogant nature of Governor Bush will be suspended for a needed flexibility that can keep candidate Bush as a serious Presidential contender.