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“The Base Is Skeptical Of Both Men”: Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, And The Art Of Disagreeing With The Base

The race for the Republican nomination is full of potential candidates who could plausibly claim the mantle of the conservative movement’s electoral champion. Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz — they all want to speak for the right wing of the Republican Party.

Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, on the other hand, despite having plenty to offer base Republican voters, simply cannot check all the boxes of a median conservative-movement voter. Bush is a lead promoter of Common Core education standards. He supports a “path-to-citizenship” for illegal immigrants (known to Republicans as “amnesty”). Rand Paul, meanwhile, is significantly more dovish than the average Republican office-holder, and has tried to leverage his libertarian convictions to reach groups that don’t typically favor Republicans, namely young voters and African-Americans.

The base is skeptical of both men, and it’s not hard to see why. And so far, these two likely candidates have utilized extremely different strategies for selling themselves to suspicious conservative voters. Bush opts for open confrontation. Paul tries for appeasement.

Paul, a first-term senator from Kentucky, sometimes gives the impression that he can’t prevent himself from presenting the least-popular, most-controversy-generating libertarian convictions that lie in his heart. Where he succeeds in selling his rather unconventional non-interventionist and libertarian views to conservative audiences is when he can contrast them to either President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. The most obvious example would be his opposition to intervention in Libya. Paul could argue to skeptical conservatives that in fact, his dovish position was the one consistently opposing the Obama-Clinton foreign policy agenda.

But in a scrum with Republicans, Paul has a harder time. He starts to fudge the differences between his position and that at the core of his party. For instance, his most devoted fans were completely flummoxed when Paul signed Sen. Tom Cotton’s blistering open letter to Iran about the negotiations. Justin Raimondo, the libertarian behind, called Paul “the Neville Chamberlain of the Liberty Movement.”

When first elected by a Tea Party swell, Paul proposed an idealistic libertarian-ish federal budget that cut off all foreign aid, including aid to Israel. But now, instead of arguing that cutting foreign aid makes good fiscal and foreign policy sense, Paul has repositioned himself in a way that gets part of the way to his goal, while ceding much rhetorically to the base. He has introduced legislation that would halt aid to the Palestinian Authority, calling it the “Stand with Israel Act.” This didn’t prevent critics from laughing at his unenthusiastic clapping for Benjamin Netanyahu.

While Paul tries to have it both ways, Bush’s approach has been to confront his critics head on. In an interview with Sean Hannity at CPAC, Bush adverted his views on immigration: “There is no plan to deport 11 million people.” (He did throw a bone in the direction of the movement right, saying, “A great country needs to enforce the borders.”)

When Bush is asked about Common Core, he doesn’t let himself get pulled into the weeds about individual curriculum choices that schools have been developing and making in response to the standards. Instead, he reframes Common Core as a common-sense effort at accountability in public education: “Raising expectations and having accurate assessments of where kids are is essential for success, and I’m not going to back down on that,” the former Florida governor said.

Some conservative commentators have interpreted Bush’s strategies as a a replay of Jon Huntsman’s base-baiting 2012 campaign. But Huntsman seemed to be uninterested in conservative support entirely. Bush’s rhetorical game might actually win their respect.

Bush doesn’t come to conservatives as Mitt Romney did, with a basket full of new convictions. Bush’s efforts to sell his positions to conservative voters is an implicit message that he wants conservatives to support him. It also helps that he keeps hiring political and activist figures who have a devoted following among the most conservative parts of the right.

Even if conservatives can’t get everything they want, they seem to appreciate knowing where the GOP candidate stands, and what they can expect from him. In a way, Bush is giving the movement a compliment by disagreeing forthrightly, and selling his position to them anyway. Paul, on the other hand, is doing his own convictions and his party a disservice by pretending their differences don’t really exist.


By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, March 17, 2015

March 21, 2015 - Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , ,

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