At the Washington Examiner, Jeb Bush recently penned an op-ed titled, “As president, I’ll end crony capitalism.” Bush said he’d end corporate welfare, do away with tax breaks for the energy industry, rewrite the tax code in a manner that will get rid of unfair loopholes, and promised to eliminate burdensome regulations that harm the economy. Wrote Bush:
“None of these reforms will be easy to make. The influence peddling industry in Washington will fight every step of the way to defend their fiefdoms and special favors. It is going to take a president with a stiff spine and a proven record of delivering conservative reforms to disrupt the old, established order.”
Props to Bush for outlining a reform agenda and trying to get out in front of an issue that plagues him. But does anybody honestly believe the narrative that Jeb! is a Washington outsider motivated to run for President so he can finally put a stop to those damn career politicians of yesteryear? Presidents like his tax raising father and bailout supporting brother?
Frankly, it’s difficult to swallow the notion that the inheritor of the Bush dynasty is the person best suited to upend the corporatist status quo. After all, only 4 percent of his campaign contributions have been in increments of $200 or less, and he’s earned just 2.3 percent of all small-dollar contributions in the GOP field. This puts Bush in ninth place among his competitors when it comes to measuring grassroots support through modest donations.
Making matters worse for him, as Republican consultant Lawrence Brinton noted in an analysis of recent fundraising numbers:
“It’s not just that (Bush’s) ratio of big-donor to small-dollar donations is vastly out of sync with the rest of the GOP and Democratic fields today. (Even Romney’s ratio of small-donor to big-donor dollars was more than twice Jeb’s.) Jeb’s big-donor to small-donor ratio is 15:1. No candidate has ever won the nomination with such a heavy reliance on big donors, even at a time when big-donor money made up a much larger percentage of total fundraising. For the rest of the GOP field, the ratio of big-donor to small-donor money is 1:1.6. Furthermore, Jeb ranks just third in total fundraising.”
And it’s not just Bush’s family ties and current donor base that make it hard to believe he’s a reform conservative. His own record, both during his time as Florida’s governor and afterwards, renders his alleged commitment to eradicating crony capitalism questionable at best. As governor, Bush had extremely close relationships with lobbyists (one of whom actually wrote some of his key speeches), and he often pushed agenda items for their corporate clients.
Additionally, as Jim Geraghty pointed out at National Review:
“After leaving the Florida governorship, Bush set up a consulting firm, Jeb Bush & Associates. A review of the firm’s records revealed ‘a third of the firm’s $33 million in proceeds from 2007 to 2013 came from banking giants Lehman Bros. and Barclays.’ One of the firm’s clients was the now-bankrupt fiber-panel manufacturer InnoVida, whose CEO pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.”
In a year when the Republican base is looking to outsiders, Bush is an unconvincing populist. Conservatives seeking to eliminate cronyism have much more compelling choices in virtually all of the GOP field. This is particularly the case when looking at the voting records of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and even Marco Rubio; leaving Bush in a tough situation that has led to a recent staff reduction in an attempt to create a leaner campaign.
Given the dynamics of the GOP field, it comes as no surprise that Bush is attempting to strike an anti-corporatist, reform-conservative tone. But the numbers don’t lie: Jeb’s support comes from the very intersection of corporate interests and establishment politics that he’s expecting voters to believe he opposes.
Polls and fundraising show that despite Bush’s attempt at rebranding, the conservative base just isn’t buying it. In today’s political climate, that might just spell disaster for a man once considered the natural Republican frontrunner.