The words “statesman,” “wonk,” “adult,” and “winner,” were attributed to Jeb! Bush early in his Presidential campaign. Yet none of these simple narratives of a candidate many in the media seemingly were trying to will to the GOP nomination are the total reality of the Bush legacy here in Florida.
Jeb Bush is a typical politician – one who masks his true sinister intentions with soft and gentle rhetoric. Bush’s goal of remaking Florida society into a business friendly state where consumers and ordinary citizens would not have the protections previously afforded to them by the laws of the state was wildly successful.
Bush’s agenda in Florida was apparent from his first day in office – mimic Karl Rove’s efforts to “defund the left” by hurting Trial Lawyers and the Teacher’s Union while using “business friendly” and “empowerment” rhetoric to force tort reform, the writing of medical malpractice laws and school vouchers down the throats of legislators. His brand of governance did not involve any degree of compromise or pragmatism.
The style of governance Bush employed was as unrelenting as today’s Tea Party. Republicans who didn’t automatically rubber-stamp the Bush’s radical policy changes were ostracized or even challenged in primaries for reelection. Bush’s tone has long been condescending and his attitude a shrill one – when opponents of his proposed changes to job hiring criteria invaded his office he instructed FDLE to forcibly remove the protestors which included two state representative, Tony Hill and Kendrick Meek. When Meek championed a ballot initiative which voters embraced to limit public school class size, Bush admitted he had a “devious plan” to prevent its implementation. Eventually Bush’s heavy-handed politics ran its course with more process-oriented Republican legislators eventually rebelling and bottling up many of his plans.
It would be incorrect to label all of Bush’s Florida GOP opponents as moderates. Some were genuinely conservative members that simply believed the legislative process should involve some give and take between branches of government. Floridians did not elect Jeb Bush king of the state, yet he routinely behaved like it. Behind the Bush façade of “listening” and “adult leadership,” his sense of entitlement and unwillingness to compromise was always just below the surface.
The tone which Bush has long taken in speeches, that of a school master lecturing unruly students is the same exact tenor he took here in Florida. While many in the capital press corps were not impressed by this, in the low-caliber world of Florida politics, Bush got away with it for years. Many reporters in Florida were not snowed by the act and if Bush didn’t like a news story or the tone of a question he would blow up. Jeb faced zero electoral consequences with low-information Florida General Election voters (Bush didn’t face a GOP Primary challenge in 1998 or 2002, though by the reelection campaign many sitting GOP officeholders were tired of him) for the way he conducted himself in office. The economy was good and when he ran for reelection in 2002 the Florida Democratic Party gave him an assist by nominating an equally tone deaf candidate who was worse than milk toast on the stump.
Bush however not having had to connect with GOP activists in some time and without a sharp concise message for television interview is a complete and total dud in this Presidential race. The name Phil Gramm (1996) quickly comes to mind when watching Bush’s campaign implode. Gramm, a big money GOP Senator from Texas had all the momentum early on but did not even make it to New Hampshire. Gramm’s Supply-Side economic theories were still in vogue during the 1990’s in the GOP but he proved to be a poor candidate who despite having the second most endorsements in the race and the near united support of the conservative talking heads that had come to prominence in the Clinton first term, he never made it to first base.
Jeb Bush is unlikely to make it to first base either. Rather than embrace his former protégé’ Marco Rubio, Bush seems to be determined to go down in a blaze of glory like the tragic figure he is by spitefully attacking Florida’s Junior Senator. Make no mistake about it, Rubio is as dangerous an ideologue as Bush, but unlike the former Florida Governor, his history of temperamental meltdowns are relatively limited.
Governor Bush never had the temperament to be President. Thankfully for our state and nation it is looking increasingly unlikely he will ever live in the White House.