"Watching him I sometimes wonder: How did this guy get to be a governor? One thing I’ve learned in my years of covering politics, one of the more surprising things, I would say, is just how many utter mediocrities become governors. This is understandable in a lot of those puny states out there where the competition ain’t so great. And where either one party or the other is clearly dominant. So if you’re a Republican state legislator in Wyoming and you have a little charisma, or a Democratic mayor of Providence who has successfully avoided indictment for eight years, well, you can get to be governor. The road is not laid with many traps."My response: Jeb! was sped through his first electoral campaign in 1998 by party insiders like Al Hoffman, then a major Florida condo developer, who were already marshaling forces to push George W. Bush ahead of Al Gore in 2000. Jeb! had the backing of Miami Cuban American developers who had coalesced around business models of suburban sprawl and the supply chain that had already become wealthy through formulas skipping past rules and regulations intended to moderate the impacts of growth on communities and the environment.
Jeb's victories were carefully coordinated affairs. Democrats floundered in the space between conservative North Florida and the progressive southern half of the state.
As governor, and even during his first campaign, Jeb! was surrounded by a core group of loyalists. By that, I mean "loyalists" in the real political definition: there were no dissenters from the Jeb! script. It was with Jeb, "my way or the highway".
For the Tampa Bay Times, Adam Smith recently reported:
"“His style is my way or the highway,” said former Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, a Republican who supported most of Bush’s agenda but is undecided for 2016. “The whole time I worked with him, he never listened to me or anybody else in the process. If Mitch McConnell and John Boehner think they’re going to have a great relationship with President Jeb Bush, they better watch out.” Former Republican state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, who several times opposed pieces of Bush’s agenda, recalled little appetite for compromise or negotiation from the governor: “If you don’t agree with him on something, there is no making it better. It’s my way or hit the highway.”I have had conversations with Jeb! insiders who contest this view. Having listened and considered that point of view, what emerges is this: so long as what you were proposing to Jeb! was a way of speeding his predetermined outcome, you were on safe ground.
Certainly, on environmental issues Jeb! was far from a consensus builder. He sought out and found one or two environmentalists who always supported his positions and never included any others in policy development. Jeb! had already made up his mind on a wide range of other issues like education, observable through his Foundation for Florida's Future publications and those of conservative foundations like the Heartland Institute. He imagined himself to be, in Karl Rove's words, "one of history's actors" albeit on the Florida stage, not the big one in Washington DC.
To the mainstream media, Jeb! is the "smart" Bush. He is "the policy wonk". He is, in Tomasky's words, "uncomfortable" on the campaign trail" because the mechanics of campaigning trouble him.
In fact, what the Republican primary has exposed is that Jeb! has no experience navigating a media-driven environment where he cannot control outcomes as he was able to do in Florida while governor. He is petulant. Quick to push off criticism.
The balancing act Jeb! is trying to perform -- attracting angry, white and aggrieved GOP primary voters -- while not blowing up general election voters is not proceeding according to script. That is a very unusual and uncomfortable position for a candidate who, as governor, was shielded by phalanxes of loyalists.
One had to be deep inside the Bush world of Florida, where flexibility and inclusiveness were considered unforgivable deficits, to understand why Jeb! is so miserable today.
(For the interested, our search category under "Jeb Bush" has a considerable inventory of commentary worth re-reading.)