Jeb Bush seems to realize how awkward his position is in the 2016 race. He’s the brother of a failed president, which creates some understandable resistance to his candidacy, and which puts some pressure on the Florida Republican to distance himself and his brethren – even as he surrounds himself with his brother’s staff and espouses his brother’s ideas.
For the most part, the former governor has tried to carefully thread a needle, passively acknowledging that “mistakes were made” during the Bush/Cheney era, even while refusing to say who made the mistakes or what they were.
It was an unsustainable posture, and as msnbc’s Benjy Sarlin reported, Jeb Bush finally tried a different course while campaigning in New Hampshire yesterday.
Bush was responding to a question from a voter at sports bar in Concord, who asked – in light of his reluctance to criticize the last Republican president on Iraq last week – for “an example of an issue where there is big space” between the two siblings.“Are there differences? Yeah, sure,” Bush replied. “I think in Washington during my brother’s time Republicans spent too much money.”
The former governor added, in reference to his brother, “I think he could have used the veto power, he didn’t have line item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, DC. Now, that seems kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, budget deficits and spending just went up astronomically, but having constraints on spending across the board during this time would have been a good thing.”
It’s important to note that when it comes to the fiscal details, Jeb Bush is badly confused. After George W. Bush left office, budget deficits got smaller, not bigger, and federal spending has increased slower, not faster. The fact that Jeb Bush has the entire picture completely backwards is a little unsettling – these are supposed to be basic details that a credible national candidate understands.
There’s also the fact that during Bush’s tenure in Florida, he didn’t seem to mind federal spending – the Sunshine State, home to many seniors who enjoy Medicare and Social Security benefits, received more money from Washington than any other state.
But even putting these details aside, Bush needs to realize that when it comes to critiquing his brother’s two terms, there’s a long list of catastrophes, and “fiscal irresponsibility” isn’t necessarily at the top. For most Americans, George W. Bush’s foreign policy disasters, economic failures, mismanagement, corruption, and all-around incompetence are more glaring concerns.
If Jeb Bush’s pitch to voters is, “I’m like my brother, but I promise to make fewer public investments,” it’s unlikely to be persuasive.