Jeb survives CPAC: How the establishment favorite cushioned his conservative heresies

Jeb Bush didn't back down on his two (2) "moderate" positions. He went way conservative on everything else, though

Published February 27, 2015 8:40PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Rebecca Cook)
(Reuters/Rebecca Cook)

"I'm not an expert on the ways of Washington," Jeb Bush, 30th-generation American power WASP, son and brother to other Presidents Bush, told CPAC on Friday.

He was lucky that most of audience didn't laugh out loud. (I laughed out loud.) Why would he say a thing like that? Well, as a dodge. Sean Hannity, who interviewed Jeb for about twenty minutes Friday, asked him about funding for the Homeland Security department. Should the Republican Congress hold its ground and risk (/ensure) that the government goes into shutdown? Jeb responded that Congress should definitely defund Obama's executive actions on deportation in its DHS appropriations bill. Okay, but is it worth risking a shutdown? That's when Jeb said that he's "not an expert in the ways of Washington." He doesn't know all this procedural rigmarole, he wants you to believe.

Uh huh. Jeb Bush obviously knows the situation in Congress. He obviously knows Congress. As he acknowledged later in the Q&A, he knew exactly where in Congress the reauthorization for No Child Left Behind was, at that minute. When asked later what he'd do about ISIS, he said "I like the idea Senator Corker's talking about." He knows what's going on, probably even better than most actual members of Congress know what's going on, and he definitely does not think it would be a good idea for Republicans to shut down the Department of Homeland Security over President Obama's executive actions on deportation. But he doesn't want to say that at CPAC. He has enough RINO-sellout positions to worry about already.

Two of them, specifically: his support for comprehensive immigration reform, featuring a conditional path to citizenship for those already here illegally, and Common Core. Flip-flopping on these issues is not a choice for him, his beliefs are so well known. And he reiterated his support for them during his understandably nervous chit-chat in the lion's den with Sean Hannity. After touting all the non-path-to-citizenship aspects of immigration reform, he recognized "the simple fact [that] there is no plan to deport 11 million people. We should give them a path to legal status." (This wasn't as poorly received in the CPAC ballroom as it could have been; part of that may have had to do with Jeb's team busing K Streeters to National Harbor.) On Common Core, he touted the merits of setting standards in education, then hedged with some discordant rhetoric about getting the federal government out of local curricula.

The media will swoon over Jeb Bush and his bravery in standing by his moderate positions at CPAC. His well-heeled Wall Street donors allies will appreciate his performance, too. He survived!

But if the rest of the speech shows anything, Jeb's "moderation" will begin and end with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and Common Core. He's so far out on those two issues, that there's no room for moderation on anything else.

He reiterated that he was as pro-life as it gets. As deregulatory as it gets. As anti-tax as it gets. He will drill everything. He proclaims to be for "traditional marriage" even though, c'mon, he doesn't give a shit. He is hawkish and believes "there should be no light between us and Israel." Boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria? Yes, please. Even on non-path-to-citizenship immigration questions, he's tacked right. He said that all of those Central American children arriving at the border last year should have been "turned back at the border."

If you ask Jeb Bush about anything other than Common Core or a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as part of a comprehensive immigration reform, he will give you whatever the go-to conservative movement line is. That's the only way he can make up the deficit. It's too bad. He's a bright guy and it would do the Republican 2016 debate well to see a real "moderate," one who's willing to let mentality filter across his platform. But that would lost him the nomination and, despite what he says, he's not willing to do that.

Oh and P.S.: His paleo diet has worked. He looks good! He also totally does that thing his brother did, where he hunches over and pushes out his hands and sorta twitch-bobs his head when he's going for emphasis. You know what we mean. That thing.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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