NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND — If the audience at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference is any indicator, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has a big problem with the Republican party’s conservative base.
Attendees of the conference usually prefer the latest, flashiest upstarts to rally behind, and this year was no exception. When radio host Sean Hannity mentioned Bush during his speech, for example, the crowd booed. During an interview with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), conservative radio host and immigration reform opponent Laura Ingraham, repeatedly disparaged Bush’s views on immigration, also sparking boos from the crowd.
Bush was barely able to begin his remarks when a group of hecklers began yelling, “Common Core!”, in protest against the former governor’s support of the educational standards that have become a cause celebre of the Republican party.
William Temple and James Manship, regular attendees of conservative conferences who were dressed in colonial clothing, staged a walkout of about 30 people.
“His policies are contrary to the desires of most of grassroots America,” Manship told TPM. “Now he’s got lots of money and he can hire handlers that make lots of people think he’s on their side.”
Manship cited Bush’s immigration reform policies and support of Common
Core as his major disagreements with the former governor; issues on
which Bush is regularly attacked by conservatives.
In addition to Manship’s complaints, which are shared among many CPAC attendees, a third major complaint is frequently voiced about Bush: his name. Critics say that he comes from a mainstream Republican dynasty that’s far too moderate.
Zachary Werrell, the former campaign manager for now-Rep. David Brat (R-VA), joined in the walk-out of Bush’s speech. “I was curious if he was going to say anything other than the cookie-cutter establishment GOP lines, and sure enough, that’s what I got,” Werrell said. “The Bushes have had 12 years and frankly Americans are sick of political dynasties. We’re sick of the same retreaded, rehashed ideas.”
TPM pointed out that Werrell didn’t listen to the whole speech before he walked out, to which Werrell replied, “I heard enough of it to know. I mean, I work in politics, so I know his speech was recycled.”
Along with another potential presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Bush is associated with the establishment wing of the Republican Party, although Bush seems to be getting far more of the rancor of the hard right. Conservatives tend to favor more hardline anti-establishment candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Sen. Ted Cruz (R), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
In an interview with TPM, Sylvia Noster, who sold luxury handbags lined with the Constitution at CPAC 2015, said there are legitimate questions about Bush’s patriotism.
“I think Jeb is from an old establishment Republican family, and establishment Republicans have never been best friends of real patriotism,” Noster said.
“Jeb, as far as I’m concerned, he’s a moderate Republican and I just don’t think that he’s part of the establishment of the old guard, and I think we’re looking for more leadership than that,” Rick May, another CPAC attendee who’s supporting Walker, told TPM.
Protesters walked out of Jeb Bush’s speech at CPAC.
Bush isn’t totally struggling in the early likely 2016 Republican presidential primary. He’s been scooping up money, and Mike Allen’s Playbook recently devoted two paragraphs to argue that the former Florida governor is highly likely to win the Republican nomination.
But Bush hasn’t been able to appease the hard right or opponents of immigration reform. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found of the 2016 field in Iowa found Walker leading the field, and Bush straggling behind by double digits. Bush may not have done himself any favors by skipping hardline immigration opponent Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) Iowa Freedom Summit event.
Critics of Bush often say that Walker is a much more preferable alternative. As he’s hinted at running for president in 2016, Walker has taken pains to stress his conservative bona fides and highlight his opposition to immigration reform, unions, and abortion.
“I like Walker because I didn’t go to college and he didn’t finish,” Manship told TPM.
Werrell, the former campaign manager to Brat, said someone like Paul or maybe Walker would be a better choice than Bush.
“Scott Walker’s fine,” Werrell said. “I’m worried because he’s reaching out to Eric Cantor.”
Could Bush change anything to appeal the conservative critics?
“I don’t know that there’s anything he can do. Take a few years off?” Werrell said.
During a panel after Bush’s speech (and the walkout), Rep. King was asked if Bush could still win the nomination.
Although he declined to praise the former governor, King said, “There’s no question he has a chance.”