Liberal reporters cannot believe conservatives see Jeb Bush as a Republican establishment figure, a moderate squish. Mark Levin calls him a “very good moderate Democrat.” In Politico magazine, NPR’s S.V. Date couldn’t believe it; neither could Adam C. Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.
Levin took apart Jeb Bush here. Both journalists thought conservatives were just misunderstanding reality. Date began:
Jeb Bush. Not conservative enough. Try as I might, it remains impossible to see these two concepts as even remotely related. John Ellis Bush, the second son of George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Bush, who during his first run for Florida governor in 1994 cheerfully called himself a head-banging conservative, a hang-’em-by-the-neck conservative … who during his second run for Florida governor in 1998 had to craft for himself a more compassionate persona so as not to scare off independent voters … that Jeb Bush has come to be viewed with suspicion by the uber-conservative, Tea Party wing of his Republican Party?
Admittedly, there are his heresies on Common Core and immigration, the two hottest-button issues of the day in that world—but that’s enough to make Jeb a moderate? Really?
For those of us who covered Jeb’s two terms in Tallahassee, this is beyond mind-boggling. On issue after issue, Jeb’s track record in Florida pushed conservatism’s envelope to the breaking point.
For anti-tax conservatives, Jeb slashed the state’s collections by a cumulative $14 billion over his eight years. For the devoted subset of supply-siders: The bulk of these cuts came via the complete repeal of Florida’s decades-old wealth tax on financial instruments. It pretty much had been the only progressive tax the state had, since Florida’s constitution forbids an income tax.
For anti-spending conservatives, Jeb line-item vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars in hometown projects from the state budget year after year.
For small-government conservatives, Jeb eliminated thousands of jobs by outsourcing huge swaths of state duties, including the massive human resources function and the state purchasing office.
For law-and-order conservatives, Jeb championed tough-on-crime bills like “10-20-life” for gun offenders and three-strikes legislation for repeat offenders. He jammed through the legislature a death-penalty overhaul drastically limiting appeals for condemned inmates (it was soon afterward struck down, however, by the Florida Supreme Court).
For pro-gun conservatives, Jeb approved an enhanced concealed carry law and, infamously, the NRA-written “Stand Your Ground” law. (After Trayvon Martin, Jeb said he did not believe it should have been applied in that instance.)
For religious conservatives, Jeb rammed through education bills that created the first statewide school voucher programs in the nation, and then spent years defending them against oversight attempts. He approved the “Choose Life” license plate and sent state money to groups that counseled women against having abortions. And, famously, he pushed through legislation allowing him as governor to intervene in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case—and at the very end nearly triggered a showdown with a local judge by sending state police officers to seize her from a Tampa Bay area hospice.
Date thought conservatives had bad information: "It's entirely possible that a big part of the 'Jeb-as-moderate' meme comes from a simple lack of information. North of the Georgia line, how many people have had occasion to care about what Jeb did in Florida from 1999 through 2007?"
Here's how Adam C. Smith put it at the Tampa Bay Times:
Jeb Bush, a moderate squish?
The governor who treated trial lawyers and teachers union leaders as enemies of the state? Who stripped job protections from civil servants? Who slashed taxes? Whose passion for privatization included enacting the nation's first statewide private school voucher program and extended to privatizing health care for the poor, prisons and child protection services?
This "very good moderate Democrat" defied court after court to try to force the reinsertion of feeding tubes for brain-damaged Terri Schia-vo and consistently backed more restrictions on abortions and fewer on gun ownership. He fought for reduced entitlement spending and, deriding nanny-state impulses, repealed the helmet law for motorcyclists in Florida and vetoed a GOP-backed bill requiring booster seats for kids in cars.
"For us who live in Florida, who experienced the eight-year Jeb Bush governorship, it's almost laughable and maybe even hysterical for people who live outside of Florida to claim that he's a moderate," said former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, himself a conservative Republican who led the opposition to Florida accepting federal money to expand Medicaid to more than 800,000 people....
The specious perception of Bush outside of Florida reflects both a fundamental misunderstanding of the man, probably due to assumptions based on the presidential records of his father and brother, and also how far rightward the Republican Party has shifted since Bush left the Governor's Mansion in 2007.
"He is thoughtful and informed, but there is nothing liberal about Jeb Bush. He is an arch-conservative," said Dan Gelber, who as a Democratic leader in the Legislature respectfully and constantly fought most of Bush's agenda. "He might have been moderate now and again, but even then it was probably by accident."