Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) seems to understand how much work he has to do to impress social conservative voters, many of whom are deeply skeptical of his unannounced presidential campaign. The weekend offered a unique opportunity: the Republican was the commencement speaker at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Virginia.
As msnbc’s Jane C. Timm explained, Bush didn’t exactly wow his evangelical audience.
The former Florida governor struggled to impress the evangelical audience at the university founded by Southern Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell. That could signal trouble for Bush, who, as seen in recent polls, is already struggling to woo evangelical and far-right conservatives. Saturday’s address did nothing to change that, as the governor delivered a speech about faith and religious persecution to a subdued audience that didn’t always acknowledge applause lines. […][I]n a handful of instances, [Bush] talked through cheers or waited for applause that never came.
Bush’s super PAC – which, at least for now, is effectively his national campaign operation – published a transcript of his remarks over the weekend, and in a striking departure from expectations, the Florida Republican neglected to even mention the issue of marriage rights, which is one of the highest priorities for the religious right movement.
He did, however, refer to the ongoing fight over right-to-discriminate laws. From the transcript:
“[A]s usual the present administration is supporting the use of coercive federal power. What should be easy calls, in favor of religious freedom, have instead become an aggressive stance against it. Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn’t the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith.“Federal authorities are demanding obedience, in complete disregard of religious conscience – and in a free society, the answer is, ‘No.’”
So, let me get this straight. Some business owners want to discriminate against American consumers; they want to justify their animus with a narrow religious belief; and those who oppose discrimination are “small-minded and intolerant.”
And he’s the electable “moderate” of the GOP field?
It’s hard not to notice the degree to which Jeb Bush is stuck – his pandering to the right-wing falls flat, largely because social conservatives simply don’t consider him credible, while at the same time, the Republican’s posturing only alienates him from the American mainstream, undermining his general-election standing.
It’s a tough needle to thread, and as was evident in Lynchburg, Bush just isn’t doing it very well.
Postscript: The former GOP governor was introduced on Saturday by Jerry Falwell Jr. To the delight of Democrats, Falwell emphasized Bush’s support for controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws and Bush’s role in the Terri Schiavo fiasco – two stories Bush would probably prefer voters forget.