Jeb Bush Is Winning the Wonk Primary

His rummage through the “reform conservative” files isn't nearly as riven as him taking advice from veterans of his brother's national-security shop.


Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes a selfie with a guest at a luncheon hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on February 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

While Jeb Bush travels the country vacuuming up money for his PAC, he's taking a little extra time to lock down the GOP's wonks. In January, Bush met with several of the intellectuals profiled by Sam Tanenhaus in his summer 2014 "party of ideas" piece. Young Guns Network policy director April Ponnuru had, as reported by Tanenhaus, brainstormed a "reform conservatism" strategy with Yuval Levin, Peter Wehner, and her husband Ramesh Ponnuru (who is a Bloomberg View columnist). The four of them joined Bush in January, and April Ponnuru is likely to join the nascent Bush campaign as a policy adviser, sources said. 

Levin confirmed that the January meeting took place, but added that the "reform conservatives" were keeping open doors and long office hours. "We've talked (separately or sometimes a few of us together or with others) with other Republicans thinking of running for president or people around them in recent months too," wrote Levin in an e-mail, "as I know many people in the think tank world have." April Ponnuru declined to comment; Bush's PAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The gravitational pull of the Bush effort has, up to now, attracted critical media attention. The news of George W. Bush foreign policy veterans signing up, as reported by Bloomberg Politics' Michael C. Bender last week, overwhelmed the message of Jeb Bush's setpiece foreign policy speech in Chicago. Its soundbite of choice was "I'm my own man"; by Sunday, Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz was appearing on CNN, as a Bush policy adviser.

Bush's rummage through the "reform conservative" files isn't nearly as riven as him taking advice from veterans of his brother's national-security shop. The "reform conservative" brand, loose as it is, gets better and brighter media coverage than almost anything else in the movement. In columns for Bloomberg View, for example, Ponnuru has argued that the former Florida governor is "highly unlikely to lose" the GOP nomination despite his heresies on immigration and Common Core. While Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is reborn as an anti-Common Core samurai, while Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker takes out his pen for a right-to-work bill, Bush gets to be an ideas man—not unlike another politician, with an identical last name, 16 years ago.

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