About a month ago, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) appeared on an Iowa radio show, addressing listeners who seemed skeptical of his conservative bona fides. “There’s nothing in my record that would suggest that I’m a moderate,” Bush said on March 6. He added that he doesn’t accept “the narrative.”
But as the 2016 race takes shape, it’s interesting to see who does accept “the narrative.”
Politico published this report overnight about reactions from GOP leaders about Indiana’s controversial SB101.
Bush took a moderate line, underscoring his strategy of running a general election campaign even before the primaries: He denied that the Indiana measure was discriminatory and echoed Pence’s argument that Democrats like Bill Clinton had backed similar measures in the past. “This is really an important value for our country … in a diverse country, where you can respect and be tolerant of people’s lifestyles, but allow for people of faith to be able to exercise theirs,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
My goal is not to pick on Politico, per se, but rather to highlight the flaw in making assumptions about presidential candidates, then shoe-horning developments into narratives that match those assumptions. If folks start from the assumption that Jeb Bush is the centrist in the race for the GOP nomination, then everything he does starts to appear mainstream.
But when it comes to Indiana’s right-to-discriminate law, there’s simply nothing “moderate” about Bush’s stance.
The reason the Indiana measure is at the center of a national uproar is because it creates conditions intolerable to civil-rights proponents: Hoosier businesses could, under the law, deny service to customers based on religious objections. It’s called a right-to-discriminate law for a reason: its purpose is to empower the private sector to cite matters of faith in justifying discrimination.
Jeb Bush offered an oblique endorsement to this idea in Georgia two weeks ago, but then extended a more explicit endorsement of Indiana’s law this week.
Indeed, after Bush expressed unequivocal support for the Indiana measure as it exists, Gov. Mike Pence (R) conceded he wants to see the state legislature approve a “fix” to the statute. Since Bush does not believe any changes are necessary, this leaves the Florida Republican slightly to the right of Pence, whom no one has ever mistaken for a centrist.
Politico sees all of this as evidence of “moderation.” That’s backwards. There’s nothing “moderate” about ignoring a firestorm of national criticism and endorsing a discriminatory law popular with far-right social conservatives and the religious right movement.
Bush did say he wants to be “tolerant of people’s lifestyles,” but there’s nothing moderate about this, either – sexual orientation is not a matter of lifestyle choices.
As far as the Florida Republican is concerned, “allowing for people of faith to be able to exercise” their religious beliefs means legal protections that empower them to discriminate against Americans they find morally offensive. That puts Bush in the same camp as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, and Bobby Jindal.
Ideological spectrums can be subjective, but if this far-right posture is what passes for “moderation” in 2015, I shudder to think what the Beltway media considers “conservative.”