Good News and Bad News for Jeb Bush's Playbook

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One takeaway from Jeb Bush’s speech in Detroit yesterday is that he’s continuing to borrow a page from his brother’s playbook in 2000. The good news: It was a successful playbook, especially during prosperous times under a Democratic administration. (After all, it’s not every day when the opposition party captures the White House when the unemployment rate is 3.9%.) The bad news: It’s George W. Bush’s playbook.

The good news: That’s worked before

In 2000, George W. Bush had a simple formula in asking American voters to put Republicans in the White House, despite the boom times under Bill Clinton’s two terms in office: 1) acknowledge the state of the economy, 2) say you’re going to change what the country didn’t like during the Clinton years, and 3) offer a comforting (and non-threatening) change. “After all of the shouting, and all of the scandal; after all of the bitterness and broken faith, we can begin again,” W. Bush said in his 2000 convention speech. He added that he wanted to “put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity. This is what I mean by compassionate conservatism.”

“Right to Rise” = “Compassionate Conservatism”?

Jeb Bush largely followed the same formula in his speech yesterday. While the current state of the U.S. economy isn’t where it was in 1999-2000, Jeb acknowledged the recovery. “It is true enough that we’ve seen some recent and welcome good news on the economy. But it’s very little, and it’s come very late.” Then he reminded his audience what Americans might not like during the Obama years. “Six years after the recession ended, median incomes are down, households are, on average, poorer. And millions of people have given up looking for a job altogether.” And then he offered his own vision of compassionate conservatism. “We believe that every American and in every community has a right to pursue happiness. They have a right to rise.”

The bad news: There’s a record from 2001-2008

The shortcoming of following his brother’s playbook came with this line: “I don’t think the U.S. should settle for anything less than 4% growth a year -- which is about twice our current average.” Yet what was the GDP growth during his brother’s presidency? Less than 2%. And of course, that presidency ended with this country’s biggest downturn since the Great Depression. So that’s the potential danger for Bush if he becomes the Republican Party’s general-election nominee. We can’t predict what the next two years will look like, but it’s very possible to see this message coming from Democrats in 2016: “You put another Bush in the White House, and you’ll get another economic downturn.” But during the Q&A after his speech, Bush said that he was his own man. “I know for a fact that if I'm going to be successful going beyond the consideration [of running for president], then I'm going to have to do it on my own." Interestingly, when asked after his speech if he’d pursue big tax cuts -- like his brother’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts -- or those targeted solely to boost family wages, Bush was non-committal. “More to come on that. Stay tuned,” he told MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin.

Another observation from Bush’s speech

Jeb isn’t pandering to the right: But one other thing was truth from Jeb’s speech: He is NOT going to pander to the right. He is running a general-election message, not one targeted to just GOP audiences. “I know some in the media think conservatives don’t care about the cities,” he said. “But they are wrong. We believe that every American and in every community has a right to pursue happiness… So I say: Let’s go where our ideas can matter most, where the failures of liberal government are most obvious. Let’s deliver real conservative success.”

Obama White House communications director to join Hillary’s campaign

The other big campaign news yesterday was the New York Times’ scoop that Obama White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri will be leaving to join Hillary Clinton’s emerging presidential campaign. Why it’s important: It’s the latest sign that Clinton is trying to fix the big mistake from her 2008 campaign. And on top of that list was press relations. While press relations between the media and the White House have hardly been a hallmark over the past six years, Palmieri is considered one of the most professional and popular communications operatives in the Democratic Party. To recap: Hillary is replacing Mark Penn with Obama pollster Joel Benenson, and she’s tapping into the Obama administration to lead her communications team. Hillary isn’t running away from Obama; let’s not pretend she is.

Rand Paul’s bad week

We’ve commented on Chris Christie’s rough week. But you can argue that Rand Paul has had even a tougher one. There was his comment (and then reversal) on vaccines. There was his testy exchange with a CNBC interviewer. And then came this National Journal article yesterday: “One of Paul's two top Iowa operatives, A.J. Spiker, is so deeply disliked and mistrusted by so much of the Iowa Republican establishment that party activists, officials and strategists say he is damaging Paul's credibility in the state.” Ouch. And folks, we haven’t even gotten to Paul’s father yet.

Scott Walker takes a risk with his education cuts

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell writes that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s $300 million cuts to the University of Wisconsin System could be problematic for the possible 2016 presidential candidate. “At home, it's highly controversial, receiving aggressive opposition from the students of the 26 two- and four-year universities and their 39,000 employees. Nationally, it is sure to be scrutinized and quite probably turned into an aggressive line of against the governor. The faculty at the largest school in the state, UW-Madison, has already unanimously passed a resolution saying the cuts will ‘diminish the quality, breadth and access to education for Wisconsin residents,’ and Chancellor Rebecca Blank called the cuts ‘too large for the system to absorb.’” Our take: Remember that higher education is often a bipartisan issue -- there are a lot of proud University of Wisconsin Democratic alums, but also Republican ones, too.

The changing demographics in the Sunbelt

On Monday, National Journal published a piece by John Judis arguing that Republicans could very well hold the advantage heading into 2016 (due to Democrats’ declining performance with white working-class and middle-class voters). But yesterday, it ran a separate article by Ron Brownstein noting the profound demographic changes in the Sunbelt states of Florida (where white eligible voters have declined from 82% in 1980 to 67% in 2012 -- and could be 64% in 2016), North Carolina (where white voters have dropped from 79% in ’80 to 70% in ’12 -- and could be 68% in ’16), and Virginia (where white voters have declined from 82% in ’80 to 70% in ’12 -- and could be 68% in ’16). Brownstein’s bottom line: “If Republicans can't hold North Carolina (with 15 Electoral College votes) and recapture at least Florida (with 29 EC votes), if not Virginia (with 13 EC votes) as well, they will likely face a very difficult path to an Electoral College majority.”

Tennessee’s legislature appears to have killed the state’s Medicaid expansion

Don’t miss this story out Tennessee: The state legislature looks to have killed Gov. Bill Haslam’s effort to expand Medicaid in the Volunteer State. “After watching fellow Republicans kill his proposal to extend health insurance coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans in a special session, a frustrated Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday the need is still there but he sees no immediate way forward.” It’s a reminder that the conservative firewall against the federal health-care law isn’t with Republican governors; it’s with GOP state legislatures. And this reminder will be important if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that states on the federal exchange (read: GOP states) can no longer give subsidies to qualified individuals. The GOP governors in these states might want to apply a fix. But will their GOP legislatures follow them?

Largest Oregon newspaper calls for Kitzhaber to resign

Lastly, it’s not every day that a state’s newspaper calls on a sitting governor – who was JUST re-elected last year – to resign. But that’s what the Oregonian is calling for regarding Gov. John Kitzhaber (D). “John Kitzhaber must resign,” the paper says. Wow.

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