Why Jeb Bush is Not a Conservative

JebBushby N. A. Halkides   12/29/14
I came upon a few articles in the Lefty media lately expressing incredulity that Jeb Bush is not considered Conservative enough in some circles. They point to one or two items like his support for gun rights, his anti-abortion stance, or the cutting of taxes in Florida during his governorship and apparently think the matter is thereby settled for any reasonable person. Even some non-Lefty outlets have taken up a similar refrain: recently, NRO ran an editorial (Going for 45 which opens like this: “Jeb Bush, who says he is considering running for president, is a strong conservative.” They took a fair amount of heat for it, especially coming as it did in the midst of a fundraising campaign, for the Establishmentarianism of Jeb Bush has long been an article of faith among Conservatives, including NRO readers, and for good reason: it’s true! And yet the editors seem so sincere that perhaps it behooves us to explain to them and even to the general media who might be confused why Jeb and other Establishment-men are not “one of us”.

We can begin with immigration. The idea that immigration is an unqualified, indisputable good thing has spread like swamp fever from the moderate Left (Establishment Republicans) to infect much of the rest of the Party, including even some good people who would at least qualify as Conservative-leaning. It is beyond the scope of this article to refute this pernicious notion, nor is it necessary for most ST readers (anyone new to the discussion should consult Selwyn Duke’s The Bright Side to Amnesty which explains why high levels of even legal immigration will ultimately destroy this country if not stopped). Oddly, the NRO editors seem to recognize the danger (Jeb is pro-amnesty and favors increasing immigration – a double-whammy!) but then strangely choose to downplay it:

“Bush seems to us to underestimate the risk that providing legal status for illegal immigrants will encourage more illegal immigration, and to be simply wrong, as well as out of step with public opinion, in thinking that the country should increase legal immigration levels.”

Now we may debate whether adopting an immigration policy that will inevitably destroy Conservatism as a political force in America must immediately disqualify its advocate from the “Conservative” mantle, although the most favorable interpretation is that someone doing so is unaware of basic facts (the disastrous effects of immigration since 1965 upon jobs and politics in America, the socialist beliefs of Hispanic and Asian immigrants) and unable to draw simple inferences (Conservatism cannot win elections if the socialist fraction of the public increases in relative size), but there can be no debate about whether it disqualifies someone from receiving the support of Conservatives for the Republican Presidential nomination. The immigration issue by itself should have put an end to the editors’ discussion right there. However, since our purpose here is to prove that Jeb is no Conservative and not just that he’s a bad candidate, we’ll go on to other topics.

I have elsewhere suggested (What Conservatives Should Look For in a Presidential Candidate) that other than greatly reducing immigration some useful criteria for judging candidates might be these:

I. The candidate must believe in real reductions in Federal spending, including entitlement reform, and believe in balancing the budget at the earliest practical moment without resorting to tax increases.

II. The candidate must embrace free-market economics and plan to seriously roll back the regulatory state.

III. The candidate must understand that government is far too powerful and intrusive, encroaching upon the individual sphere, and that the individual has the right to keep and bear arms, including but not limited to semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and AK-47.

IV. The candidate must wish to avoid unnecessary military intervention, but also understand that where the security of the United States is at risk, we go in to fight and win. Destruction of the enemy, not building up benighted countries, is the function of our military, which must be second to none. The restoration of the old standard of American military preparedness, being able to win two wars simultaneously, seems advisable.

V. The candidate must agree the Federal government has no role in abortion, which is strictly a matter of concern for the states. If pressed, he may certainly oppose late-term abortions and take a position slightly to the right of the median American voter on this issue.

VI. The candidate should have a coherent theory of government (limited government).

The idea was that these standards should be comprehensive; that is, a candidate’s failure to meet any one of them should lead us immediately to question his alleged Conservatism. Let’s start with (V) – how good is Jeb on abortion? He does seem fairly sound there, having signed a measure requiring abortion practitioners to tell the parents of a teenager girl when their daughter is considering an abortion in May 2005 (source – Free Republic.com). One gets no sense of overwhelming passion about the issue, but for a Presidential candidate, who will only be in a position to do something about it when nominating Supreme Court Justices, this might be enough if we have confidence in his ability to pick good Justices – a big “if” given his brother George’s record in that area. But let’s give Jeb the benefit of the doubt on abortion.

Jumping to (III) and the subject of guns, Jeb has the reputation of supporting gun rights. But what did he actually do as Florida Governor? Well, he did sign the “Stand Your Ground” law, made famous during the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin controversy, to which it ironically did not apply. More significantly, he signed four other bills into law (source: NRA):

• HB 285 — prohibits the confiscation of lawfully owned firearms during emergencies.
• HB 687 — protects the privacy of Right-to-Carry permit holders from public record.
• HB 1029 — restores the right to possess a firearm while in national forests and state parks.
• HB 1290 — extends time for active duty military men and women to renew their Right-to-Carry permit while serving away from home.

These were all good, substantive bills, especially HB 285, which shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place (if firearms are lawfully owned, an emergency does not give state officials the power to confiscate them, as happened in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina). Yet at the same time, Jeb favors extended background checks – one of the methods by which the Left intends to chip away gradually at gun rights and harass gun owners. And even if he signed those four bills, here we see one of the problems with judging executives such as Governors: they may well sign bills they would never have initiated. This leaves us somewhat in doubt as to how intensely Jeb really feels about these issues. Granted, a Democratic Governor might not have signed them, but that’s a terribly low standard by which to judge a Republican as a staunch advocate of gun rights.

When it comes to the economy (criterion II), I could find very little in the way of specifics except for one thing: immigration! Yes, Jeb really believes that more immigration will somehow magically cause something like 1% growth per year. (You can see it for yourself on YouTube: Newsmax TV Interview with Jeb Bush). It begins at about the 3:00 mark, with Jeb explaining that we should have less immigration based on family reunification and more on “economic” need (i.e. the demands of large business interests for cheap labor), and also mentions the possible expansion of H1-B visas for this same alleged purpose (and the same real reason).

Jeb does talk a lot about economic growth, offering some warmed-over supply-side rhetoric and falling back on this when asked about the country’s growing debt. Significantly, when confronted about the need for spending cuts he says that most of what we’re talking about are really only cuts to the rate of growth and not actual spending cuts. Well, there it is, and right out in the open (at 11:25) – no need to cut spending or alter the country’s course – just put Jeb at the helm of the welfare state and all will be well! This is everything Conservatives loathe about Establishment Republicans in a nutshell – they don’t want to roll back the welfare state, they just want to run it themselves.

And again, should there be any doubt about that, let’s go back to Jeb’s term as Florida governor (1999-2007). During those eight years Florida general fund spending increased from $18.0 billion to $28.2 billion (a 57 percent increase). In 2006 his grade from the Cato Institute dropped to a “C” (see Jeb’s spending record from the Cato Institute). Neither population increase nor emergencies (both of which happened during this time) can justify such a spending increase, which undoes whatever credit Jeb might otherwise have earned for cutting some state employees.

Then there’s Common Core. Common Core standards were created by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The stated goal, supported by the Obama administration, was to increase education standards in America. A detailed analysis of the Common Core standards is beyond the scope of this article, but even the brief description given above is a bright red flag: the Gates Foundation and obviously the Obama administration are far-Left organizations, and their support by itself is a strong indication that the “standards” are a bad idea. A little thought reveals why: they are national standards, which means top-down control from the Federal Government. At times, Jeb has stated that the states should be free to design their own programs using Federal dollars, but when has that ever happened? Federal funding always means Federal control, thus Jeb is advocating two contradictory ideas: Federalism (that is, a limited Federal Government) and Federal funding (control) of local concerns. This contradiction should remind us of something, and I’ll return in a moment to what that something is. Let us note in passing that Jeb is unlikely to be a strong supporter of eliminating the federal Department of Education.

(For some further critical commentary on Jeb’s support of Common Core, the reader is referred to Frederick Hess’s brief summary in NRO, Michelle Malkin’s several articles there, and this editorial in Investor’s Business Daily

Jeb’s behavior toward Conservatives and their obvious enemies is distinctly revealing. From The New York Times:

“Speaking at a breakfast with national reporters held by Bloomberg View in Manhattan, Mr. Bush questioned the party’s approach to immigration, deficit reduction and partisanship, saying that his father, former President George Bush, and Reagan would struggle with ‘an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.’ Going one better, he praised his father’s 1990 deficit-reduction deal, which drew the lasting ire of his party’s fiscal hawks for its tax increases.”

So Jeb is open to tax increases as a means of reducing the deficit (so much for his record as a tax-cutter as Florida Governor). But worse are his words about “an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.” One can only conclude that he is referring obliquely here to the basic Conservative position that government should be limited (the “orthodoxy”), which “doesn’t allow for disagreement” (i.e. which doesn’t simultaneously allow the government to grow in size and power without limitation). In other words, Bush is attacking Conservatism for its logical consistency and implicitly admitting his own inconsistency.

Twice then we have seen Jeb Bush take contradictory positions: with Common Core vs. Federalism as mentioned earlier, and now with limited government vs. activist “problem-solving” government. This should remind us of something – his brother George W. Bush’s infamous “compassionate conservatism,” which simultaneously smears Conservatives as uncompassionate and attempts to combine conservatism (which if it stands for anything stands for conserving the traditional American political ideal of limited government) with “compassion” (i.e. an ever-expanding welfare state, albeit one under Republican control) – a logical impossibility, since government cannot simultaneously become both larger and smaller than it is today. It was this contradiction that was at the heart of so many of G. W. Bush’s domestic policy failures (Medicare prescription drug benefit, the Wall Street bailout, and his signature education initiative, “No Child Left Behind”). We might also note the family resemblance in that neither brother seems to be very good at controlling spending. And should there be any doubt about Jeb’s intention to continue his brother’s “compassionate” ways, the Times article continues:

“”There are a lot of us still trying to put the compassion in conservatism,’ Mr. McKinnon said, referring to Mr. Bush’s description of his own political brand during his presidency. Jeb Bush, he said, was speaking for ‘a piece of the party that’s felt pretty neglected lately.’”

Ah yes, the poor suffering Establishment Republican, having to endure the petty slings and arrows of troglodyte Conservatives who for some queer reason want to save this country from its gradual descent into statism. (The “Mr. McKinnon” referred to is Mark McKinnon of No Labels, a group that isn’t comfortable with petty distinctions such as slavery vs. freedom, or the totalitarianism of the New Left vs. the anti-totalitarianism at the heart of the Conservative movement).

How about the enemies of Conservatives? If anyone deserves that title, it’s Hillary Rodham Clinton for reasons too numerous to detail here, although we should at least keep in mind her unrepentant 60’s radicalism, fundamental viciousness and dishonesty, and record of complete failure as Secretary of State. What has Jeb had to say about her? Why, he presented her with The Liberty Medal on behalf of the National Constitution Center! (See this report from Eagle Rising for the nauseating details). This too should remind Conservatives of something: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s warm embrace of Barack Hussein Obama. (The reader will be excused for becoming sick a second time.)

So what’s the matter with Jeb? I suggest the answer lies in that last criterion (VI) I mentioned earlier: The candidate should have a coherent theory of government (limited government). Indeed, I often think that I could almost have done away with the other five criteria in favor of this one, for it is here that we see the biggest difference between Establishment-man and Conservative: the Conservative has a commitment to limited government which he applies to specific issues of the day while the Establishment-man only sees an unconnected group of isolated “problems” that are to be “solved” by “practical” means, including the expansion of government at the expense of personal freedom. Jeb, his brother George W., and others like them sometimes have what we might call Conservative “instincts” – the remnants of Conservative morality that occasionally pushes them in the right direction, for example to restrict abortions or cut taxes – but because they aren’t given to abstractions or thinking in terms of basic principles, they all too often find themselves dragged along by the dominant ideas of the day, which at the present time leads inevitably to disaster since the dominant political ideology is statism. Hence George mindlessly repeating all that codswallop about Islam being a “religion of peace,” Jeb awarding the Liberty Medal to one of the most prominent collectivists of our time, and both Bushes increasing government spending while serving in an executive capacity.

We should also now understand why Establishment-men are rather frequently mistaken for Conservatives: they take one or two Conservative positions based on their feelings or perhaps the desires of their wealthy friends in business (e.g. tax cuts), and because very few Leftists would do this, they become “Conservatives” in the eyes of those not given to protracted examination and thought. I put it to readers that a man who rapidly increases the size of government, sees no problem with tax increases as long as they are coupled with spending “cuts” (any reduction in the rate of increased spending), wants centralized control of K-12 education, and attacks Conservatives while heaping praise on their enemies is no Conservative himself.

Nik is a freelance writer, former professor, and has written for FrontPage Magazine.
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23 Responses to Why Jeb Bush is Not a Conservative

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    From my perspective, even if Jeb were Ronald Reagan II, I would have difficulty voting for him as he is part of a political dynasty. This is something which should not be a part of America. Can a country of 315 million souls, not find a better leader than Jeb or that other dynast, Hillary? Politics as a profession for families over generations is unseemly and dangerous.

    My God, even India has gotten past the Gandhis and is moving in a better direction, while we in the States, are going retrograde.


      I would say that our current political dynasties are one of the consequences of moving toward a system in which a permanent ruling class lords it over the serfs. That is, once we are given a choice of only Left (Establishment Republican) and further Left (Democrat) as in Europe, dynasties and other clan-like groups naturally arise. I submit that a creature like Jeb Bush would not have a chance of being nominated by a Conservative party; his record as Florida governor is quite unremarkable, and only his connections with wealthy and powerful elites (i.e. the Establishment) have carried him this far.

      I wish I could say that we Conservatives are the biggest obstacle he faces, but the truth is that honor probably belongs to Mitt Romney, who has the same support base Jeb does. I wish they would both run and divide the Establishment’s support.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    The question is, What is a conservative? It cant be limited to those who agree with everything the majority of conservatives think. If we base the rating on degree of agreement, Jeb might well qualify. I think a good basis would be independence from Beltway thinking. A supporter of Common Core and the legalization of illegal aliens who’s willing to talk about tax increases for budget deficits (no doubt to be matched with the fairy gold of spending “cuts” that never materialize), then we clearly have someone captured by the Beltway mindset. He may be a conservative, but he is of little use for righting the ship; at best he isn’t as harmful as a Plunderbunder.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      at best he isn’t as harmful as a Plunderbunder.

      I think that about sums it up.


      I agree that your question is of vital importance, Tim, which is why I’ve addressed it a couple of times before this (What Is Conservatism? and in the criteria which I repeated in this article). I’m very concerned by the sheer confusion men like Jeb Bush and (most dangerously of all) Scott Walker have managed to generate among Conservatives, and I intend to write another couple of articles not just bashing the Establishment but getting more deeply into the difference between them and us.

      Let me suggest here that in the end there is only one fundamental political question, whether men are to be free or whether they are to be subject to the arbitrary commands of other men (a proper essay subject on its own). In our time, when applied to contemporary American politics, this reduces to whether the government is to become larger and more powerful (the statist, Progressive, Democratic plan) and the individual weaker, or whether the government is to become weaker (smaller) and the individual stronger (the Conservative, or classic liberal position). This is the question that should be asked of every potential Republican nominee.

      I maintain that anyone who doesn’t think the government is too powerful and individual liberty is being encroached upon cannot be regarded as Conservative, even if he’s against abortion and wants to cut taxes, because he fails to see the need to conserve the greatest political value – liberty. Jeb Bush plainly falls into this category, and thus at base is a moderate Leftist, not a Conservative.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        What we really have is a matter of conservative populists, Beltway conservatives (who can’t be relied on), and such. One way to tell a Beltway conservative is his stance on crony capitalism (such as the Export-Import Bank and corporate bailouts). Another is whether he’s ready to work with Luis Gutierrez (“My only loyalty is to the immigrant community”) on immigration issues. Either one of those clearly marks a captive of the Beltway mindset, who can never be more than a lesser evil no matter how conservative he is on other matters.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


    What do you think of Mike Pence?


      So far I like him. I’m planning to do some kind of overview of the possible 2016 candidates, for which I’ll research Pence a little more thoroughly and report to ST readers.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    For what it’s worth, Larry Thornberry has a sort of “anyone but Jeb” article that isn’t half bad: The Overrated Candidate: The Case Against Jeb Bush.

    And regarding his emphasis on “education,” I think this is a byproduct of the Ruling Class mentality. In effect, he’s telling us all how much smarter he is.


      I took a look at the article, which by coincidence appeared the same day this one did (bad website, by the way – I moused-over the wrong part of the screen and a flash player popped up that refused to go away until I reloaded the page). Of course I agree with its substance. But as the pre-Presidential campaign continues, I’m coming more and more to the conclusion that we need to understand clearly the difference between Establishment and Conservative, lest we Conservatives get bamboozled into supporting another Establishment turkey in 2016. Few of us would have been fooled by Jeb, but I think it was wise to start by examining him carefully as he’s a textbook specimen of the Establishment-man.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        bad website, by the way

        Oh, we should do a seminar just on the obnoxious state of the web. Many sites are becoming un-browsable, at last on tablet devices. They pop up ads everywhere and bog the sites down with so much stuff. (As a friend of mine says, they try to shovel ten pounds of crap into a five pound bag.)

        Granted, those other sites need to make a profit. But isn’t there a way to make a buck without becoming the eternal equivalent of the “last candy rack next to the check-out counter”? You know the kind. They represent a mindset that just can’t let you out of their store unless they shake every last dime out of you.

        A basic modicum of decorum would be appreciated, for if the typical conservative web site resembles P.T. Barnum on acid, what does that say about the supposedly calm, wise, and sober mindset of conservatives? No, you can’t judge a book by the cover. But if the cover requires twenty clicks to hide pop-up junk just to reach the inside pages of the book, then that certainly doesn’t reflect very well on the author.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    NRO has a good piece by Andrew McCarthy on its front page. Among the many important things he writes is this,

    What doesn’t work in Washington is . . . Washington — its officeholders-for-life, its strangling bureaucratic sprawl, its incestuous network of staffers and lobbyists, its naked cronyism, and its invested media

    This may be clear to many, but it bears repeating; often.

    Jeb and most of the others we hear about are of Washington, by Washington and for Washington. This should never be forgotten.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      It’s amusing that you and I simultaneously did responses here based on the same NRO article.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      And he took a nice shot at libertarians by (in his mind) distinguishing (with good intent, if perhaps still off the mark) between the “good” libertarians and those rabid types who are simply anarchists (hostile toward any and all government).

      the real liberals being those who defend the Constitution’s guarantees of individual liberty and state sovereignty against centralized government’s overbearing proclivities, namely “conservatives” and “libertarians” (at least those libertarians who actually believe in limited government — i.e., those for whom healthy skepticism about government has not devolved into implacable hostility towards government even in its essential functions).

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I still think the term “Libertarian” carries something of the stench of dishonesty with it. At the very least, there is some confusion.

        From what I have seen, most “Libertarians” are basically one of three different things i.e. Leftists in drag, constitutional conservatives who for whatever reason do not understand what they are or do not like the name conservative, or anarchists.

        The first and third of these further the Leftist agenda, knowingly or not.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I think I would agree, but in discussing libertarians as a group we should remember that this includes the second. I do wonder how many even of those understand that today we face a choice of totalitarianism (liberal Democrats), nominal (but largely ineffectual) opposition to totalitarianism (moderates, Beltway types, etc.), and genuine, determined, uncompromising opposition to totalitarianism (informed conservatives).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          constitutional conservatives who for whatever reason do not understand what they are or do not like the name conservative, or anarchists.

          What’s so amusing to me about this, Mr. Kung, is that we live in a culture that obsesses (and not without some reason) over the labels that list the contents of various foodstuffs. But when it comes to politics, we will readily swallow poison if it has the right label.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


            According to an article I recently read, today’s high school graduate entering college has, on average, a 7th grade reading level. I assume this means an average 7th grader has the reading level of a 3rd grader.

            This being the case, I am not surprised at the public’s inability to understand what’s actually behind labels or what that might mean.

  6. Timothy Lane says:

    In commenting on Andrew McCarthy’s discussion of the No Labels idiocy, I noted that the basic political struggle is between the totalitarian left and those who see that the left is totalitarian. People like Jeb Bush and Mitch McConnell may, on balance, be conservative on the issues — but their failure is the failure to understand the nature of the opposition. This is what makes their usefulness so limited.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I hold few in higher esteem than Andrew McCarthy. But he could have, and should have, eviscerated this stupid “no labels” thing as the smug, ruling-class mindset that it is.


        Their arrogance is unbelievable. Unable and unwilling to make either fine distinctions or gross ones, unable to take sides between freedom and totalitarianism, they pretend to be somehow above such petty considerations!


      I think their Conservatism is only skin-deep, a remnant of a Conservative morality they’re on the point of forgetting, if they ever truly understood it. That’s why they don’t see the issues in terms of principles, and also why, as you observe, they don’t understand the Left.

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