Compared with the rest of the contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a mainstream conservative. In a recent Raleigh appearance, he demonstrated easy rhetorical skills while also playing into the hands of Democrats who say the Republican Party is interested in protecting the interests of the wealthiest Americans.
That’s evident, of course, in state after state where Republicans have cut taxes on businesses and the richest citizens while cutting programs that benefit the poor. North Carolina could be, unfortunately, the prime example of a Republican agenda driven by state and congressional leaders who bow to the tea party while trying to keep the “business Republicans” in their corner.
Bush isn’t getting into that tall grass yet, but he’s certainly solidifying his support among one part of the Republican base: millionaires and billionaires. That puts him squarely in the mode of Mitt Romney. In his Raleigh visit last week, Bush did not reach out to the 47 percent Romney wrote off. Indeed, he was focused on the 1 percent. Bush attended a party at the home of former News & Observer publisher Frank Daniels Jr. and his wife, Julia Daniels, that included on the guest list some of the wealthiest people in the state, many of whom presumably would be donors for an establishment Republican such as Bush. The guests included Temple Sloan Jr., founder of the auto parts company General Parts International; Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS software company; pharmaceutical mogul Fred Eshelman; and John Kane, a real estate developer.
At an appearance at Republican Party headquarters in Raleigh, Bush hit some general concerns about poverty (he said money is not the answer), jobs (he said he’d build a business) and his Florida governorship (he said he’d successfully cut the budget).
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But Bush will have to broaden his base considerably beyond the standard Republican fare if he’s to have any more luck winning the White House than did Romney. So far, he’s playing it safe, but even getting the Republican nomination will require a long walk on a tightrope, with people like Sen. Rand Paul, business executive Carly Fiorina, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and surgeon Ben Carson eager to knock him down. These days, as Romney found out, being the Republican who’s not as wild as those other guys is a difficult role to play.