Jeb Bush readily points to his conservative credentials — tax cuts and smaller government as Florida’s governor — yet convincing the activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference that he’s one of them might be a tougher sell.
A sign of what Bush faces at CPAC: His speech Friday in Washington follows those by conservative heroes Sen. Marco Rubio, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Rand Paul and former Sen. Rick Santorum. Tea party activist William Temple is urging people to walk out when Bush takes the podium.
“We’re tired of CPAC inviting non-conservatives to come to speak,” Temple told The Associated Press.
In what could be a warm-up to his CPAC appearance, Bush recounted eight years of pushing tax cuts, job growth and smaller government as governor when he spoke Thursday to the anti-tax group Club for Growth.
“I ran as a conservative,” Bush assured more than 200 people at the group’s winter meeting in Palm Beach. “I said what I was going to do and I had a chance to do it. And, trust me, I did.”
Bush maintained that his accomplishments in Florida could be duplicated on the national stage.
“If you apply conservative principles and you stick with it, and you have the leadership skills to bring people toward the cause, you can move the needle on these things,” he said. “I reject the notion that we can’t solve problems, that the gridlock is too enormous to forge consensus. It requires some creativity to get to a win for everybody.
To his would-be rivals for the GOP nomination, Bush suggested that their talk of pursuing conservative goals is cheap.
“It’s easy to talk about it,” he said. “I hope you believe that you want someone who has the proven leadership skills to make it happen.”
Bush is well-prepared for criticism that he’s not conservative enough for CPAC activists. Speaking to the Club for Growth, he ticked through eight consecutive years of tax cuts, totaling $19 billion, a state workforce cut by 13,000 and 1.3 million more jobs in 2007 when he left office than when he entered in 1999. He also signed Florida’s “stand your ground” gun law and tried to prevent a brain-damaged woman, Terri Schiavo, from having her feeding tube removed.
Today’s criticism of Bush centers almost entirely on his support for Common Core and an immigration policy that would create a path to citizenship for people living in the country illegally. He is also hurt by lingering resentment over the rise in government spending during the administration of his brother, President George W. Bush.
Bush rekindled the misgivings of some skeptics late last year when he said a Republican might need to “lose the primary to win the general,” viewed by some as a swipe at the heavy influence of conservatives in picking the party’s presidential nominee.
Just 4 in 10 self-identified conservatives and tea party supporters rated Bush favorably in an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this month.
Aware of the intraparty doubts, Bush’s team is busy reviving old alliances, in phone calls and private meetings, with top social and economic conservatives, broadening his network of conservative opinion leaders and trying to quiet his more aggressive critics.