Op-Ed

Conservatives should be on board the Jeb Bush express

IN THE RING: Jeb Bush kisses his wife, Columba, as his mother applauds him at the rally on Monday where he officially unveiled his candidacy for president.
IN THE RING: Jeb Bush kisses his wife, Columba, as his mother applauds him at the rally on Monday where he officially unveiled his candidacy for president. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

“No, no, no! Another Bush?!”

Such was my reaction, and that of many other conservatives, last year when rumors of a potential Jeb Bush 2016 candidacy began to surface. Words like “dynasty” and “legacy” were a constant. “What don’t you like about Jeb?” someone would ask, to which we would sputter the following nonsensical retort: “Hm, well — c’mon, a Bush?”

Yet several realities began to dawn upon us: (1) in all the kneejerk reflectiveness against the idea of a Bush, we had hardly evaluated the man on his actual record; (2) the idea of “not another Bush” was a silly one, especially coming from George W. supporters (and considering W’s recent high favorability ratings); and (3) worst of all, the irony of failing to see that supporting a candidate simply for who his family is, is just as unfair as dismissing a candidate for the same reason.

Following Jeb’s announcement on Monday, something funny began to happen. Conservatives squirmed in their seats, thinking: “Hang on, we kind of like him.” Social media posts along those lines, from previous Jeb-naysayers, were rampant. What we watched was a solid defense of conservative views, delivered by a towering, Lincoln-esque figure who seemed every bit a statesman. Here was an accomplished, seasoned candidate, with the record one expects from a potential presidential nominee — which we’d previously written off because he comes from, literally, a presidential family.

Floridians may have forgotten just how much Jeb accomplished as governor: created over 1 million new jobs (the most of any state); cut taxes each and every year, totaling as much as $19 billion (the biggest tax cuts in Florida history); vetoed $2 billion in wasteful spending; repealed the unfair tax on investments; created the state’s first school voucher program; ended affirmative action in state university admissions; signed into law “Stand Your Ground”; eliminated regulations that stifled development; implemented faith-based prison reforms; and reduced the state government workforce by 13,000 via creative solutions such as privatizing certain government tasks.

Under Jeb, Florida boasted a 4.4 percent growth rate, a whopping eight balanced budgets, and soared to a AAA bond-rating. He left office with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, when the national average was 4.4 percent.

Any way one slices it, that’s one heck of a résumé — how can we still argue the surname is at all relevant?

The only two areas where conservatives might disagree with Jeb are immigration (he supports a pathway to citizenship for qualifying undocumented immigrants) and Common Core (a national standards approach to standardized testing). But he is no different from other top-tier candidates on immigration (Senator Rubio, after all, pushed the “Gang of 8” bill and actively combatted conservatives for months) and, outside of radio hosts and some Tea Partiers, many conservatives are fine with instituting Common Core’s national, uniform standards.

Regardless, on education, Jeb’s record is one that would make any conservative cheer, including implementation of school choice; holding teachers and public schools accountable for students’ performance; and a program that guaranteed state-university admission for the top 20 percent graduates of each public high school. It is no surprise that, under Jeb, economically-disadvantaged students’ achievement improved in Florida more than in any other state.

Jeb is, in short, a policy wonk with a record of implementing conservatism effectively. When we say conservative policies can improve lives, Jeb’s record actually proves it.

On more personal notes, his Spanish fluency and decades-long marriage to Mexican-American Columba resonates with Latino voters (over 60 percent of Latinos in the U.S. are of Mexican descent). And, for years, he personally read and replied to emails from constituents, as recently revealed, demonstrating an accessible public servant. Perhaps most notably, when Jeb speaks, his message tends to be less about knocking Obama, or Hillary’s age, or even other Republicans — and more about what he can accomplish. It is how a leader speaks. Sure, he’s a little dry and awkward — but I am selecting a president, not a club promoter.

Can Jeb beat Hillary? It’s too early to tell. But he does seem to be the most experienced, accomplished candidate the GOP can put forth. And if the Democrats are fine with nominating a “dynastic” candidate of their own, well, perhaps conservatives should have the confidence to do the same — after all, one does fight fire with fire, especially with an unquestionably impressive record.

We know the Bush family, we know Jeb’s record, and we know what he is like as a governing leader. So to even the most cynical voter out there, I would say: “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.”

It is time to shed our teenage-angst temper tantrum regarding the Bush name and realize we are sitting on a terrific candidate. Jeb leads the polls for conservatives’ top pick and it’s not hard to see why.

Conservatives are officially on board — unleash the Jebernaut.

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