The worst thing that can happen to any politician is to build a reputation for “straight talk,” then lose it. John Kerry and Mitt Romney were neverly particularly known for consistency; when they became branded as “flip-floppers,” the public was considering them for the first time. But last week, when Jeb Bush tripped all over the analyses of his book The Immigration Wars, he was doing even worse – he was morphing from a “Republican iconoclast” to a sleazy rhetorical acrobat.
He tried to claw his reputation back in his dinner speech to CPAC.
Taking firmer control of his words this time, Bush previewed the speech with a Wall Street Journal op-ed. It hit almost all of the same Big Ideathemes, word for word. “America could be the Saudi Arabia of grain” - “the development of 3D printing machines is racing ahead” - and so on. But this was supposed to be the come-to-Jesus line.
Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker and the list goes on and on… those voters feel unloved and unwelcome in our party…. we must move beyond the divisive and extraneous issues that currently define public debate. Never again can the Republican Party must not write off entire segments of American society by assuming that its principles have limited appeal.
The first part of that, with “anti-gay,” did not appear in the op-ed. Anyway, it worked. National Journal credited Bush for “words [not] typically spoken by Republican political figures.” The Huffington Post focused on another line, about “writing off” voters, to ask whether Bush had exorcized the ghost of the “47 percent” tape. The straight talk rep is easy to re-earn, as long as you earn in front of a “tough audience.”