1. Florida Politics

Adam C. Smith: Jeb Bush has a conservative problem

Jeb Bush looks like a strong and energetic candidate eager to mix it up with voters and reporters, but he still has a big Matt Drudge problem.
Published Dec. 15, 2015

Jeb Bush has a serious Matt Drudge problem, and that points to a more fundamental electoral problem.

Among the most prominent headlines Thursday evening: POLL: 54% WANT FRESH FACES IN '16....NH voters pan Bush...Jeb Still Refuses to Rule Out Tax Hikes...

The prior Friday, during his New Hampshire debut as a likely 2016 presidential candidate, much of the mainstream media was gushing over Bush's substance, his accessibility and his refusal to pander to the right on issues like immigration reform. But Drudge offered these headlines: RUBIO ON RISE ... JEB STRUGGLES FROM WITHIN ... Says his view on immigration is 'grown-up plan' ... WALKER: 'WE NEED NAME FROM FUTURE, NOT PAST'...

Drudge, a Miami resident and registered independent voter, does not pick the Republican nominee, of course, although he was consistently kind to Mitt Romney in 2012. However, his immensely popular website helps shape the conversation among Republican activists and reporters covering the race.

Combined with the nearly universal skepticism or outright hostility to Bush from other Republican-leaning media outlets from the Weekly Standard to Rush Limbaugh and, Drudge's Bush treatment underscores a significant obstacle to the former Florida governor with the potential to grow even bigger.

"As long as the field stays very divided against him, he will be able to overcome it as (John) McCain did in 2008 and Romney in 2012. If, however, the field shrinks, then it becomes a problem because the criticism gets more easily amplified," said Erick Erickson, the influential editor of, one of the few conservative outlets that has given Bush relatively balanced coverage.

Romney had plenty of critics on the right and in the conservative media, but not nearly as many as Bush does today.

Given his huge advantages in fundraising and GOP establishment support, Bush should be the runaway Republican frontrunner. He's not.

The antagonism from GOP-friendly media outlets reflects the deep resistance to Bush from the Republican base that stands to make this the most volatile primary in decades. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey released Monday found only 49 percent of Republican voters said they could vote for Bush for president, while 34 percent had an unfavorable impression of him and only 23 percent viewed him favorably.

Watching Bush and other Republican contenders campaign in New Hampshire last weekend, I came away with four main takeaways:

• Bush is working extremely hard at this and seems surprisingly ready to submit himself to the indignities and periodic humiliations of a modern presidential campaign. He looks, contrary to many predictions, like a strong and energetic candidate eager to mix it up with voters and reporters.

• Fatigue with the Bush name is far greater than I realized among rank-and-file Republicans.

• So is antagonism to the Common Core educational standards.

• It has been nearly 10 years since Bush was a self-described "head-banging conservative" governor, and to many voters and conservative opinion leaders it feels much longer than that.

"Jeb Bush may have been a conservative governor but he seems to have positioned himself to be more of a centrist since then, and that's not what I'm looking for," former New Hampshire state Sen. Fenton Groen of Rochester said at a house party in Dover.

Nobody likes a scold, and people in recent years were more likely to see Bush on TV suggesting Ronald Reagan would have a tough time winning over Republicans today, rather than promoting the conservative cause.

Or lamenting how leaders in his party have been unwilling to compromise with Democrats. Or suggesting that "grown-up" Republicans understand that undocumented immigrants need a way to obtain legal status.

"That's not a starting point for dialogue with conservative voters. That's more like a middle finger," said Tucker Carlson, editor in chief of the Daily Caller. "You couldn't pick two more resonant issues for Republican primary voters than immigration and Common Core. ... Jeb says to them, 'Not only do I not agree with you, I don't agree with you at all — and I don't really respect your views on it.' "

The vast majority of the GOP establishment's donor class is fully on board with Bush's immigration reform and education agenda — and they are remarkably disconnected from much of the conservative media and activist base. But for those important constituencies, the establishment wing of the party is the biggest problem with the GOP, and why the likes of Bob Dole, McCain and Romney wound up nominated for president and losing.

Even Bush's top political advisers, Sally Bradshaw in Tallahassee and Mike Murphy in California, are widely perceived among movement conservative leaders as suspicious of large pieces of the grass-roots.

"We repel Latinos, the fastest-growing voter group in the country, with our nativist opposition to immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship. We repel younger voters, who are much more secular than their parents, with our opposition to same-sex marriage and our scolding tone on social issues. And we have lost much of our once solid connection to the middle class on kitchen-table economic issues," Murphy wrote in Time magazine after President Barack Obama's 2012 victory.

Bradshaw helped author a postelection autopsy for the Republican National Committee that reached the same conclusions and infuriated many party activists.

"I used to like Jeb Bush, but now he seems to be more of a waffler. The amnesty issue is a big issue for me, and so is Common Core," Bill Burpeau, a banker from Londonderry, N.H., told me last week.

Donald and Elizabeth Towle, leaving a state GOP training session in Concord, had a more pragmatic concern: "Can Jeb Bush win? A fresh face would have more appeal, I think," he said. "The Bush legacy has been a troubled legacy, so it would be nice to have a fresh face."

Funny how that common sentiment mirrored the headline on

Professor: Jeb 'Exactly the Republican the Clinton Campaign Desires'

Contact Adam C. Smith at Follow @adamsmithtimes.


  1. FILE - In this June 20, 2018 photo, immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a former Job Corps site that now houses them in Homestead, Fla.  Migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border last year suffered post-traumatic stress and other serious mental health problems, according to a government watchdog report obtained by The Associated Press Wednesday. The chaotic reunification process only added to their trauma. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File) BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Since Homestead’s closing on Aug. 3, at least $33,120,000 has been paid to Caliburn, the company contracted by the government to run Homestead.
  2. The economies of Canada and Florida go together like, well, palm fronds and maple leaves, as seen outside the Sweetwater RV Resort in Zephyrhills. (Times file photo) KATE CALDWELL  |  Tampa Bay Times
    To qualify under the Canadian Snowbird Act introduced in Congress, the visitors would have to be older than 50 and would have to own or rent a home here.
  3. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    School security and early learning get top billing in the first committee meetings of the looming 2020 session.
  4. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks to an unidentified man outside of Tampa Bay Academy Monday, April 15, 2019 in Tampa. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Richard Corcoran has convinced the State Board of Education to sign off on a new funding formula for the 28-college system, which, with more than 320,000 students, is widely viewed as one of the...
  5. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Miami while visiting Ball & Chain in Little Havana for a meet-and-greet with Hispanic voters on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. [CARL JUSTE CJUSTE | Miami Herald]
    While candidates vie for votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states, the struggle in Florida six months from the primary election is about big money.
  6. A view of the I-275 northbound Sunpass lane at the Skyway Bridge. VRAGOVIC, WILL  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The lost money is from unpaid tolls stemming from problems with the vendor Conduent State & Local Solutions.
  7. Mark. S, Inch, Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, at the State Capitol, May, 1, 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Mark Inch said the root of the problem lies with low salaries and long shifts for prison guards.
  8. Female driver texting on mobile phone while driving. STAR TRIBUNE  |  baona/Star Tribune/TNS
    Police are choosing to issue warnings instead of tickets — so far.
  9. Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaks to delegates during the 2019 Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) JESSICA HILL  |  AP
    Kimberly Diaz Scott was the Central Florida regional director for Charlie Crist’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign when he ran as a Democrat against Rick Scott.
  10. In this July 22, 2008, photo, traffic passes in front of the New York Times building in New York. MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP
    The allegation stems from their reporting on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.