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Jeb Bush: The Return of 'Compassionate' Conservatism

04/06/2015 03:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2015

Sixteen months before the Republican convention, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is a slight favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination. Given that Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination, Bush vs. Clinton should be an interesting race. Although Jeb Bush is a typical right-wing Republican, he will attempt to soften his image and portray himself as a "compassionate" conservative, as did his brother in 2000.

The latest CBS News poll shows that 51 percent of Republican respondents "would consider voting for" Bush as the Republican nominee. (The next five were Mike Huckabee [42 percent], Rand Paul [39 percent], Marco Rubio [39 percent], Ted Cruz [37 percent], and Scott Walker [35 percent].)

Bush is the frontrunner among the business-conservative wing of the GOP, ahead of his principal competitors for this segment: Walker, Christie, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is the favorite of the Christian-conservative wing of the GOP, ahead of his principal opponents: Senator Rubio, Senator Cruz, former Senator Rick Santorum, and surgeon Ben Carson. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is the favorite of the GOP's libertarian wing.

After their respective conventions conclude, both candidates will try to claim U.S. political middle ground. Clinton will attempt to establish that she is not as liberal as most Democrats. Bush will try to prove that he is not as conservative as mainstream Republicans.

Out here on the left coast, we understand that Hillary Clinton is not a liberal. She is a third-way Democrat, that's why most of us aren't very enthused about her.

Although he'll try, it's unlikely that Jeb Bush can differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. Moreover, Americans are focused on domestic policy; the latest Gallup Poll indicated that Americans continue to be primarily concerned with jobs and the economy, as well as government and health care.

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush differ on most domestic issues. On economic inequality, Bush talks about the skills gap and the education gap. Award-winning economist Thomas Piketty observed that if Republicans, such as Jeb Bush "are really serious about the skill gap and the education gap, then they cannot at the same time cut the tax on the rich."

When Bush was governor of Florida, he became an advocate of charter schools. Political writer Alec MacGillis observed that Jeb Bush's education reform program, "was of a piece with his larger agenda to privatize state-run services, from prisons to Medicaid." Bush pushed "school choice." As a result, "by 2002 for profit-companies were managing three-quarters of the state's newly approved charter schools," which were "free of public oversight and collective-bargaining agreements," and spent "about two thousand dollars less per student than traditional public schools."

On job creation, Clinton supports increasing the minimum wage and federal job creation plans. Jeb Bush called for the elimination of the Federal minimum wage, "We need to leave it to the private sector." Bush is not in favor of Federal job creation plans and opposed the 2009 stimulus package. A 2002 analysis of his term as governor found,

[Bush] championed tax cuts that chiefly benefited business and the wealthy, trimmed the state's payroll, [and] stripped job protection from thousands of mid-level civil servants... while Florida led the nation in job creation, much of that was in low-paid service industry jobs that left many Floridians without health insurance and scrambling for affordable housing amid a real estate boom that helped fuel business-friendly tax breaks.

As one would expect, Clinton supports the Affordable Care Act. Bush referred to Obamacare as a monstrosity; he wants to repeal it, and have the government provide only catastrophic coverage.

Clinton believes global climate change is real and would reduce carbon emissions via government regulations. Bush responds, "I'm not a scientist."

On immigration, Jeb Bush has a more humane attitude towards undocumented immigrants than do most Republican candidates; Bush said, "Immigration is not a felony but an act of love." Clinton supports immigration reform and a "pathway to citizenship."

Jeb Bush is conservative on social issues. He was an early supporter of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. "I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing." Real Clear Politics observed: "During his governorship, Bush asserted himself frequently on hot-button issues that highlighted his staunch social conservatism, particularly in opposing embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights... Bush began a nearly two-year fight to keep alive Terri Schiavo."

A recent New York Times article preicted that Jeb Bush plans to run on a "unifying" message. It's reminiscent of the claim of his brother, George W. Bush, that he would be "a uniter not a divider;" that he was "a compassionate conservative."

Nonetheless, on an issue-by-issue basis, Jeb Bush is a staunch conservative. He's not any more compassionate than Dubya was.