Jeb Bush is about to find out just what kind of Republican Party he's dealing with

The monied, establishment frontrunner wants to civilize GOP politics. Will GOP voters find that... condescending?

Published July 29, 2015 12:00PM (EDT)

  (AP/John Locher)
(AP/John Locher)

Jeb! Bush's alleged intention to run a positive, joyous, exuberant, civil, delightful, laughter-filled presidential campaign of constant mirth treads around an obvious political risk: projecting condescension or even hostility towards, you know, Republican voters. Implicit in these calls for a shiny, sparkly Republican politics is a criticism of Republican voters as feral beasts who've been conditioned only to respond to argle-bargle nativist nonsense. No one likes to be told to smile more, honey.

Let's play "If I Were A Conservative Voter." If I Were A Conservative Voter, who would I like? I would like someone in the mold of Ted Cruz, who assures me that everything I think is the unalloyed truth backed by both constitutional and Biblical law, and that I should never accept any sort of legislative compromise. I would love this. It would make me feel so alive. When I would get really angry at the RINOs in Washington selling out their principles by doing things like funding the federal government, he would not tell me to chill out. He would tell me that my anger is righteous! and powerful! and must be channeled! through donations! to his campaign! and political action committee! To calm down and accept a "compromise" with the Dumbo-crats that allowed, say, the expansion of medical insurance to continue unabated, I would be letting down not just myself or my country, but God, and most importantly, Ted Cruz.

If I Were A Conservative Voter, I would see smarmy Jeb Bush talking to groups of CEOs all the time about how I was a dumbass. There he would be at the "Wall Street Journal CEO Council," talking about how he wouldn't pander to my dumbassery in order to secure my primary vote. He thinks I am some low-life rube who only wants to be pandered to with fresh blood meat everyday. Well that's not what I want at all. I just want someone to follow THE CONSTITUTION and throws the illegals "back over the wall," etc.

Now here is Jeb Bush again, talking to more "businesspeople" about how I need to be nicer 'n' stuff. Pfft. (Emphasis Greg Sargent's):

And over a day of campaigning in the Orlando area, he often sounded as if he were keynoting a centrist think-tank seminar about how to overcome political polarization more than a Republican attempting to win over conservatives.

“We need men and women of good will forging consensus, starting to solve problems, kind of building back the muscles of consensus, compromise and solution-finding to fix these things,” Mr. Bush told a group of businesspeople here, lamenting what he called a paralyzed democracy. “Apparently that is dangerous in a Republican primary,” he added, “but it’s what I believe.”

You speak differently when you're talking to assembled CEOs and "business people," who simply want regulations eliminated, and when you're talking to conservative activists (such as Iowa Republican caucus-goers), who expect an ideological makeover of the federal government, if not the entire culture, from their next president. What you don't want to look like is playing to elites. That was (part of) what did in the last allegedly Great Civilized Hope, Jon Huntsman. Huntsman often seemed to relish going out of his way to distance himself from the rank-and-file. Remember this?

[embedtweet id=104250677051654144]

Which won him all sorts of plaudits at places like the "Morning Joe" green room, which has absolutely no persuasive powers over either conservatives or liberals.

The worst perception that Jeb Bush could have in the minds of conservative voters is that he's trying to change them. To recondition them out of the stone age and into modern civil society. Jeb Bush obviously would argue that he doesn't mean it this way: that the nasty rhetoric that's overtaken Republican politics over the last six (or 50) years does not align with the way most Republican voters truly feel. If he is right, then he will win the nomination. If not, then Jon Huntsman will be saving a seat for him on the No Labels board of directors.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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