Candidate Evaluations: Jeb Bush

by Benjamin Studebaker

Jeb Bush is finally officially running for president. He delayed a while so that he could set up his super-PAC, Right to Rise. Bush plans to outsource the operation of his campaign to Right to Rise so that he can circumvent existing campaign finance laws. There is no limit to the size of donations to super-PACs, and donors can remain anonymous. Legally, all Bush has to do is ensure that no member of his campaign directly operates the super-PAC. In any case, let’s look at the guy, shall we? I’ll be evaluating Bush’s background, policy history, and explicit statements to determine whether or not he would make a good president. I won’t be paying attention to electability or likeability, as is often common elsewhere on the web.

Here are all the previous candidate evaluations we’ve done, if you’re a big fan:

This is Jeb Bush:

Bush went to the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a BA in Latin American Studies. He has no graduate level training. He worked for and became partner in a real estate firm during the 1980’s. He worked on his father’s presidential campaigns in 1980 and 1988. In 1994, he ran for governor of Florida and lost narrowly. In my research for this post, I ran across an interesting factoid–at one point during that campaign, Bush was asked what he would do for African-Americans. Here was his response:

It’s time to strive for a society where there’s equality of opportunity, not equality of results. So I’m going to answer you question by saying: probably nothing.

Bush’s definition of “equality of opportunity” appears to be very different from most of the kinds I’ve encountered in political theory. Most academics recognize that poverty is cyclical–if your parents are poor, you are unlikely to get access to the same resources and opportunities when you’re growing up.

We know, for instance, that wealthier parents spend more money on enrichment activities for their children:

And we know that the more unequal a society’s economic outcomes are, the less social mobility there is:

So when Bush makes this sharp distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome, he’s making a gross oversimplication–because the outcomes of your parents influence your opportunity, these things are inextricably linked. But I digress.

In 1998, Bush was elected governor of Florida, and he was reelected in 2002. How did Bush do? Let’s look at the figures. Here’s Florida’s per capita income under Bush compared with the country’s:

Jeb Bush Per Capita Income


At first blush, these figures look good. In 1999, Florida’s per capita income was 97.5% of the national average, and when Bush left office Florida had a very slight lead–the national average was 99.8% of Florida’s in 2007. But it’s important to remember that Florida was hit especially hard by the burst of the housing bubble in 2008. Florida’s improvement ultimately turned out to be fleeting. By 2013, Florida’s figure was down to 92.8% of the national average:

Jeb Bush Per Capita Income with Recession


Florida hasn’t put up numbers that bad against the nation since the 1960’s. Poverty rate tells the same story–the numbers improve during the housing boom (which coincides with the Bush years), and then things fall apart:

Jeb Bush Poverty Rate

But because this came after Bush left office and because of Bush’s limited influence over the role the housing market plays in Florida’s economy, we’ll give him a pass here.

How did Bush do in other areas where his power was more tangible? Here are a few of his other prominent policies as governor and beliefs he’s expressed over the years:

On education, Bush was an early proponent of mass testing for students and he supports charter schools and voucher programs. He also tried to block legislation that would have increased funding for Florida’s schools to keep class sizes down.

Bush privatized many aspects of Medicaid to cut costs when he was governor. He did succeed in reducing Medicaid expenditures:

But the plan was disastrous for beneficiaries–Florida is way behind other states on quality of care for Medicaid recipients:

The situation grew so dire that the pediatric association sued the state for paying Medicaid providers so little that it was resulting in an insufficient standard of care. The court ruled that Florida’s program failed to meet the federal requirements for Medicaid. Here are some more of the concrete consequences of Florida’s program, according to the ruling:

▪  Almost 80 percent of children enrolled in the Medicaid program “are getting no dental services at all.”

▪  By squeezing doctor payments, Florida health regulators left one-third of the state’s children on Medicaid with no preventative medical care, despite federal legal requirements — and this was true for both children paying fee-for-service or under managed care. “In addition,” Jordan wrote, “an unacceptable percentage of infants do not receive a single well-child visit in the first 18 months of their lives.”

▪  Florida health regulators sometimes switched needy children from one Medicaid provider to another “without their parents’ knowledge or consent.”

▪  The number of needy Florida children able to get a potentially life-saving blood screening for lead is “extremely low, notwithstanding the fact that part of Florida has an aging housing stock, which means children are more likely exposed to lead-based paint.”

▪  Thousands of children are “terminated” — or kicked out of — the Medicaid program each year, sometimes due to nothing more than bureaucratic error. For every budget year from 2003 to 2007, at least 25,000 youngsters below age 5 were removed from the Medicaid rolls before they had received a year of insurance. One study found that close to 30 percent of terminations or coverage denials for both children and adults “were erroneous.”

▪  The scarcity of doctors who accept Medicaid insurance in some parts of the state means “children on Medicaid have to travel to other areas of the state and/or wait for several months to obtain care.”

This is particularly relevant, because Bush wants to replace Obamacare with a system based on his Florida Medicaid plan. It’s safe to say that this is not a good idea.

Bush acknowledges that climate change is real, but he is reluctant to acknowledge the role human beings play or to take the kinds of concrete state actions that would be required to combat it.

As governor, Bush opposed funding for high speed rail, eventually killing the program in Florida.

In the past, Bush has consistently supported a path to citizenship for immigrants. More recently he has reneged on this position, likely for political reasons, though he still claims to support some kind of legal status after a series of penalties are imposed. As president, he might revert to his pre-campaign position.

Crucially, Bush opposed the essential economic stimulus package passed during the worst days of the recession. There is now a consensus among economists that this stimulus lowered unemployment and that its benefits exceeded its costs. He also supports a balanced budget amendment, which would make it impossible for the government to use fiscal tools to respond to economic crises in the future, regardless of their severity.

On social issues, Bush signed the controversial stand your ground laws that were made infamous during the George Zimmerman trial. In 1994, he took a stand against the legalization of sodomy, though Bush now claims he no longer holds this view. Today he still opposes gay marriage but stands by the decisions of the courts. He famously tried to keep Teri Schiavo alive, signing a law to block her husband from pulling the plug. The law was ultimately overturned by the courts. Bush has not changed his view on this.

On foreign policy issues, Bush mirrors his brother. He admits he would have authorized the Iraq War explicitly stating that there’s no distance between himself and his brother on the issue:

Yes, I mean, so just for the news flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.

He has a pattern of supporting military interventions. Bush would cancel any deal Obama makes with Iran–he supports regime change and will not rule out the possibility of military force. He’s willing to consider putting troops back into Iraq. He also wants to put more US troops into Eastern Europe.

All in all, there are really only two issues where Bush is significantly more moderate than the other republicans who have already declared:

  1. Immigration–as I said, Bush has flip-flopped a bit on this, but he seems committed to the idea that there should be some mechanism by which undocumented immigrants get legal status.
  2. Taxes–Bush has not signed the pledge against tax increases and he has not called for any outlandish tax reform proposals yet (no flat tax or fair tax so far). That said, he has claimed that he would only consider a tax increase if every additional dollar of taxes was accompanied by ten dollars in spending decreases, so he’s still far from reasonable here.


I’m not impressed. There is no obvious difference between Jeb Bush and George W. Bush on any of the issues. On the economy, on social issues, on foreign policy, they are the same. The Bush years were crummy–on average, the economy grew a measly inflation-adjusted 1.78% per year under Bush. That’s the lowest mark of any post-war president:

Presidents GDP Growth


Bush II also sent the poverty rate skyward:

George W. Bush Poverty


And real wages stagnated:

Why would we want a president who is politically more or less exactly the same as the president that brought us these pathetic numbers? And yet, most of the republican candidates are supporting the same policies or even worse versions of these same policies. Give me a break.