Jeb Bush vows not to pander, as Jeb Bush panders to collection of CEOs

The establishment favorite says he won't pander to the party base if he runs. Wanna make a bet?

Published December 3, 2014 6:04PM (EST)

Jeb Bush                                  (Reuters/David Manning)
Jeb Bush (Reuters/David Manning)

Jeb Bush is a clever guy. He comes from a family of clever people who tend to become president. His brother George could come off as thick, but he won the presidency two times. He remains the last politician who could successfully unite the support of the Republican Party. And as Jeb looks ahead at 2016, he's playing a clever game around his base of early supporters, who happen to be drawn from the wealthier business wing of the Republican Party, people who can cut him big checks off of which to coast for a while. He's telling them that he would never pander.

"Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida was blunt Monday night," one of the more credulous statements to run in the New York Times in recent memory reads: "If he runs for president in 2016, he will not pander to his party’s conservative base in the primaries."

He promises that if he runs -- which he claims he's still hesitant to do -- he will never "violate his principles." A successful Republican presidential candidate, such as himself, "has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more willing to be practical." The Times, in what is yet another one of the more credulous statements to run in the New York Times in recent memory, suggests that Bush plans on running an "unapologetically pragmatic" campaign.

But to whom was Bush saying this? Not face-to-face with anyone who might disagree with anything coming out of his mouth. He said it at an event hilariously titled "The Wall Street Journal CEO Council," which tells you more than you need to know about the target audience.

These are elite business Republicans who hate Democrats, taxes, regulations and the lower and middle classes. Above all else, they hate their fellow Republicans, whom they consider screeching racist morons who are always blowing perfectly winnable elections with their screeching racist nonsense. It sends their cold hearts aflutter to hear Jeb Bush "bluntly" state that he will not pander to the screeching racist morons. These CEOs will all want Jeb Bush to run for president, and they'll promise endless financial support to his campaign of No Pandering.

Which is to say that Jeb Bush successfully pandered to his audience at the "The Wall Street CEO Council." He honestly got these rich dolts to believe that he won't pander to conservatives if he runs for president? "Conservatives" are the people who vote in Republican primaries! You're goddamn right he's going to pander to them -- immediately after he's been oh-so-involuntarily drafted into the race, with commitments, by these Wall Street types, and after the New York Times and other serious publications have locked into the narrative about how he's the "serious" candidate.

I mean, Jesus Christ. "Jeb Bush is not going to pander." Dude is pandering to an insane special interest group as I write this column!

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Let's not pretend like we're dealing with some sort of grand moderate here.

He does have two very real and threatening heresies at the moment: he supports comprehensive immigration reform (including a path to citizenship) and Common Core. These really could sink him. But there are ways to massage them. He can pull the the ol' McCaineroo and change the emphasis in his immigration views by becoming one of those "we need to secure the border first, then we'll consider, uhh, the other immigration stuff" candidates. On Common Core, he can stress his positions on "education reform" writ-large and focus on things that the GOP base loves, like union-busting and firing teachers and replacing them with charter-school iPads or whatever. He was already testing this education message in front of the Wall Street CEO people: "The changes he proposed regarding education would break up the 'politicized, unionized, government-run monopolies' of local school districts and better serve the needs of individual children, he explained." Oh, man. "Politicized, unionized, government-run monopolies" -- that's not pandering, right-wing language whatsoever.

Aside from those two things, though? Moderate Non-Pandering Jeb Bush's other priorities include: "an 'all-in' energy policy that expands the use of the nation’s natural resources; a reduction in business regulations; a simpler tax code." Drill everywhere, slash regulations, cut taxes. He wants to "reform entitlements," too. What else? His advanced, 21st century, forward-looking non-pandering foreign policy is strictly "interventionist," which is code for bombing the fuck out of every country on the planet, forever. What a breath of fresh air for the Grand Old Party! Git-r-done, Jibby!

Jeb Bush's "well, if I run, I'll do it by being honest and pragmatic and we'll just see how that goes" thing is a tactic, an act. He's not going to run a campaign as some academic experiment to measure the effectiveness of "unapologetic pragmatism" in contemporary electoral politics. He will intend to win, and he'll do that in the tried-and-tested way: telling each constituency whatever it wants to hear. That's the only sort of pragmatism he'll be practicing.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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