This week, following months of slobbering coverage from mainstream and nominally liberal journalists, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) announced that he will “actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States.” If anyone suggests that could be good news for the climate, don’t buy it.
Center-left establishment journalists like to demonstrate their nonpartisan credentials by finding at least one Republican presidential candidate to hold up as the exemplar of reasonable, intelligent conservatism. In the 2012 race, that was Jon Huntsman, who accepted climate science and eschewed homophobia. A close look at his platform showed he was actually extremely conservative. This time, it will be Bush. The difference? Bush, especially when it comes to climate change, is no Jon Huntsman. Like Huntsman, he is not moderate. Unlike Huntsman, he is neither intelligent nor reasonable. But, also unlike Huntsman, he could actually win the Republican nomination.
Lazy pundits wrongly assume that Bush is immune to the extremism and ignorance that have come to dominate his party because he has sometimes taken centrist stances on two issues: immigration and education. Here are some of the recent accolades Bush has received. Ruth Marcus, a liberal columnist at The Washington Post, on Oct. 28:
Run, Jeb, run. …
It would be good for Bush’s party and good for the country. …
A Bush candidacy would deviate from party orthodoxy on numerous issues, most notably immigration and education reform; a Bush nomination would usefully yank the party toward the center. …
A saner Republican Party would produce saner, more productive politics.
Chris Matthews, MSNBC host and former House Democratic staffer, on Dec. 2:
[L]ots of noise now about 2016. Jeb Bush seems like he wants to run but he wants to run on his own terms. He’s not going to become a wacko bird. He’s not going to join the clown car. He believes in education, he believes in Common Core education. He believes in immigration, good immigration. He is different than some of those Ted Cruz types out there. And he’s not going to cross-dress and pretend he ain’t.
Matthews asserts that Bush is generally mainstream in his views, but only cites immigration and education as examples. Marcus claims there are other issues on which Bush would be moderate, but she doesn’t name any of them. Perhaps that’s because there actually aren’t any. On taxes, abortion, health, public safety, civil rights, gun control, and regulating industry to protect the environment, Bush is a staunch right-winger. Here’s Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith:
Jeb Bush, a moderate squish?
The governor who treated trial lawyers and teachers union leaders as enemies of the state? Who stripped job protections from civil servants? Who slashed taxes? Whose passion for privatization included enacting the nation’s first statewide private school voucher program and extended to privatizing health care for the poor, prisons and child protection services?
Bush’s liberal fans would argue that a candidate’s specific issue stances can evolve once in the White House, so his or her general disposition matters. How can we assess this in Bush’s case? If only there were a previous Republican presidential candidate who was given favorable coverage from the elite center-left media … someone perhaps who was considered a moderate because of his positions on just a couple of issues … better yet, someone for whom those two issues were immigration and education … you know, someone who called himself a “a uniter” and a “compassionate conservative” … maybe a former Southern governor named Bush … Wait a minute! Back in 2000 there was exactly such a person, praised for his genial temperament by the likes of Matthews and Joe Klein of The New Yorker. And we all know how that turned out.
Worst of all is an article from last year by Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn, which recognizes the relevance of George W. Bush’s far-right record on the environment, and then just ignores it in order to make the green case for his brother:
Environmentalists won’t want to hear this, but the best hope for saving the planet may be another president named Bush.
Jeb Bush built solid green credentials during two terms as Florida’s governor, spearheading a $1 billion public land acquisition program, Everglades restoration and water quality. Of late, he’s using his credentials as a fiscal conservative to challenge his party’s “anti-science” wing. …
Greens of course won’t be jumping to volunteer for another Bush campaign, especially after eight tumultuous years battling Jeb’s brother on air and water pollution policies and complaints that the last White House muzzled climate scientists. …
But there are also plenty of reasons why Jeb Bush could be the man to bring climate change legislation to the promise land …
See the sleight of hand? Samuelsohn cites Bush’s record on a couple of traditional conservation issues and uses it to infer moderation on climate change. Ah, well, there’s a reason Samuelsohn doesn’t want to talk about Bush’s actual climate change position — because Bush doesn’t believe in climate change! In a 2011 interview with Fox News, Bush said, “It is not unanimous among scientists that [climate change] is disproportionately manmade. … What I think on the left I get a little tired of is the sanctimonious idea that somehow ‘science’ has decided all this so therefore you can’t have a view.”
As The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg notes, “Those comments put Jeb Bush in lock-step with the other climate deniers in the Republican party … In 2009, Jeb was even an early adopter of the “I am not a scientist” line — which gained traction among some Republicans this year as a way of ducking the denier label.” This may put Jeb in line with other Republican presidential aspirants, but it leaves him actually way to the right of his divisive, ignorant, incompetent brother. As Goldenberg points out:
Brother George — or 43, as he is apparently known at family get-togethers — never went as far as outright climate denial, but he was certainly no friend of the environmental movement. As president, 43 had a Texas oil man’s approach to global warming. He pulled the U.S. out of the Kyoto protocol, let oil companies dictate energy policy, and installed other oil men in environmental posts who censored government scientists’ warnings about climate change.
But George W. Bush did make a half-hearted pitch for renewable energy — dropping a mention of switch grass into his 2006 State of the Union address — and he declared what was then the world’s largest marine reserve on his way out of the White House. And on climate change (as opposed to stem cell research and the morning after pill), 43 did not go out of his way to try to undermine science.
So you could expect a Jeb Bush presidency to be a lot like his brother’s on climate change, only worse. Bush is even starting out this campaign to the right of where Mitt Romney was on climate science at this point in the last cycle. In 2011, Romney was chastised by the right-wing media for accepting climate science, even though he didn’t propose to do anything about the problem. Rush Limbaugh said that stance meant “bye-bye nomination,” but Romney still won it, in part by later disavowing climate science.
History shows us three things about Jeb Bush: He is no moderate, he is not too moderate to win the nomination, and the Republican primaries will drag him further rightward.
Contra Politico’s Samuelsohn, greens would love it if a major Republican Party figure were likely to do something about climate change. Unfortunately, Samuelsohn’s “reasons why Jeb Bush could be the man to bring climate change legislation to the promise land” turn out not to have anything to do with Bush’s record or statements on the issue. Samuelsohn just talks in generalities about how a Republican president could sign a cap-and-trade bill if passed by a Democratic Congress, and bring to the table Republicans who have viscerally opposed anything associated with Obama. This might be true, but it has nothing to do with Bush in particular, and it is absurd in the context of today’s gerrymandered Republican House.
It’s especially strange that Bush is credited with general moderation because of two very specific issues that are especially unlikely to tell us anything about him in general. Supporting education reform is common among Republicans and it’s an issue few people vote on anyway. It’s a painless way for a right-wing Republican to soften his image among swing voters. That’s exactly how George W. Bush used it. Support for immigration is widespread in the bastions of free-market business conservatism, like the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Elite GOP strategists like Bush family consigliere Karl Rove have long known that immigration reform is essential to the party’s prospects among the growing Latino community. Bush’s brother was mistaken for a moderate for exactly the same reasons.
As W himself said, “fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me, you can’t get fooled again.”