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Would chilly reception at CPAC hurt Jeb Bush's 2016 chances?

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Joe Skipper/AP

(Read caption) Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the winter meeting of the free market Club for Growth winter economic conference at the Breakers Hotel, Thursday, in Palm Beach, Fla.

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Jeb Bush speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference today and it may be an awkward appearance. To many CPAC attendees, the former Florida governor represents just the sort of squishy Republican-in-name-only they’ve been trying to oust from party leadership for years.

Some attendees may walk out. The Washington Times reports this morning that at least a few activists are trying to organize such an informal protest due to Mr. Bush’s past support for Common Core educational standards and immigration reforms fiercely opposed by many Republicans.

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The atmosphere on stage could be chilly. An example of the possibilities occurred Friday morning when conservative commentator Laura Ingraham ripped Bush from the CPAC podium, getting cheers when she asked how many in the audience were skeptical of the idea of another Bush term. She suggested that Bush and likely Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton run on the same ticket – they could call it “Clush 2016”– and that a few wealthy donors are trying to foist the Bush family scion on the party.

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“The idea that we should be conducting any type of coronation in the Republican Party today because 50 rich families decide who they think would best represent their interests? No way, Jose,” said Ms. Ingraham.

Will this damage Bush’s primary prospects? No way, Laura Ingraham.

Not that he’s a shoo-in, of course. He’s a front-runner, but not the front-runner, no matter what some pundits say. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker looks strong in the early going and, if conservatives unite behind him he’d be a formidable Bush foe.

But we’ll say the obvious: CPAC isn’t representative of the Republican Party. It isn’t even always representative of the conservative wing of the GOP. Just look at the results of convention’s presidential straw poll. The group has held 20 of these votes in its 41-year history, and only three of the winners have gone on to win the party’s presidential nomination, points out Libby Isenstein of National Journal.

Ron Paul has won twice. Former Virginia Sen. George Allen won once. So did Rudy Giuliani, conservative activist Gary Bauer, and magazine publisher Steven Forbes.

And the conservative wing of the Republican Party, as a whole, may not have much trouble with Bush. Yes, he’s an establishment family scion, but he’s also a proven winner in maybe the most important swing state in the US not named “Ohio." His apostasies deal with big issues, sure, but Mitt Romney was once pro-choice, and he won the Republican nod. Political polling expert Harry Enten points out in The Guardian that Bush scores better with conservative and very conservative voters in a recent PPP poll than he does with moderates.

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“Bush is trusted by conservatives. He doesn’t need to say certain things to make the base go gaga,” writes Mr. Enten.

Finally, the GOP in recent years has tended to pick presidential candidates who are more moderate than its congressional leadership. That’s because blue state Republicans tend to be more moderate than their red state compatriots – and blue states hold Republican caucuses and primaries, even if they’ve got Democratic governors and senators.

This blue-state involvement makes it much harder for conservatives to win the GOP nomination, according to Nate Cohn at The Upshot data blog of The New York Times.

“They also give a candidate who might seem somewhat out of touch with today’s Republican Party, like Jeb Bush a larger base of potential support than is commonly thought,” writes Mr. Cohn.


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