- - Wednesday, February 24, 2016


I have been a friend and supporter of Jeb Bush since he first ran for governor of Florida. He lost his first race but went on to serve two terms as perhaps the most effective conservative governor of his generation and certainly one of the best in Florida history. When he announced last year that he would run for president, I vowed to do all I could to help him — not because he was a friend but because I saw him in action in Florida and believed we needed someone like him in the White House. To say I was disappointed when his campaign failed to find traction and he withdrew from the race is an understatement.

He knew what he was getting into this year. The “anti-establishment” wave that was building would hurt him if only because of his name, but he entered the race with the firm belief that a candidate who stood above it all and ran a joyous campaign driven by the power of his convictions could inspire the various segments of our party to come together at this truly critical point in our history. Given the stakes, he believed he had to take the chance even if it meant sacrificing a comfortable and successful life for Days Inns in New Hampshire and Iowa.

Jeb raised more money than most and launched an effort that for all its promise, never really took off and now, as is always the case when a promising campaign falters and fails, the media is sorting through the remains for the “story” of what and who might have been responsible for its failure. This search for blame and for scapegoats is inevitable.

I understand that, but would like instead to reflect more on the unfavorable dynamics of this election cycle — dynamics over which neither Jeb nor his campaign had any control. As I listened to Jeb’s announcement speech in the summer of 2015, it all seemed so possible. We were in first place in the polls, flush with cash and had amassed a policy team second to none

The business world into which Jeb had fully immersed himself had not changed at all over the years. The same rules applied: Preparation, tenacity, perseverance, civility and reputation all worked to assure him a prominent role in corporate boardrooms, in his investments and as a popular public speaker on policy issues of interest to him.

Within the GOP, however, things were changing, and changing rapidly. Over the past five or six years, a new conservative movement comprised of new or revamped inside-the-Beltway conservative organizations has emerged, funded by donors who, in their frustration, have opted to give to them rather than to party or traditional organizations. Working with stars of political cable television and radio talk shows, they have dedicated themselves to defeating Barack Obama’s plans for a fundamentally changed America.

They reject even tactical compromise and for some, angst has overtaken the desire to solve problems. Many of these groups, along with their more traditional cousins, will be found at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in a couple of weeks. Anyone seeking an understanding of the tensions, factions and strength of conservatism in the country should consider attending what I, as a former chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, consider the finest political conference anywhere.

Ted Cruz will no doubt be there, though my fellow Floridian, Marco Rubio, is skipping the conference as he courts “establishment” support and seems willing to take a slap at conservatives to do so. Interestingly, Ohio Gov. John Kasich had originally turned down a CPAC invitation, but when Mr. Rubio bailed out, his campaign quickly reversed field and decided to attend, knowing that perhaps some moderate conservatives, insulted by Mr. Rubio’s action, might be available. Donald Trump will be there as well. Mr. Trump, who has dominated the GOP race, is the vehicle through which many conservatives, including those who disagree with his policy positions, have expressed their antipathy toward business as usual in Washington.

The conservatives who make up the base of the GOP are no longer content to accept whatever comes their way. They have grown aggressive, tired of the often-empty rhetoric that dominates campaigns as candidates seek their votes with no real intention of following through once elected. This year they want one of their own as president. The candidates must convince them that he is, in fact, one of their own to succeed.

I still believe Jeb would make a great president, but he never overcame the sense that a third Bush in the White House would amount to anything more than another “insider presidency” reluctant to lead the change conservatives are demanding. In other words, he was never able to convince them that he is one of them. In retrospect, this was partly his fault and partly the fault of those of us around him. Everyone assumed that the base knew that Jeb Bush in Florida had run and governed as an effective, principled conservative with perhaps the best credentials of any of the candidates running.

Now that he has stepped aside with grace and sincerity, he and all who supported him are prepared to work and vote for a candidate who will be able to win in November and begin the process of turning this country around.

Al Cardenas is a Florida lawyer who has served both as Florida State Republican chairman and chairman of the American Conservative Union.

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