Jeb's Economic Record Is Great. Nobody Cares.
In Jeb Bush's presidential campaign, which became official Monday, one part of his appeal has gone mostly unnoticed: His economic record as governor is the best of any candidate. That Bush hasn't benefited more from that record says a lot about how the Republican Party chooses a nominee.
Bloomberg's Economic Evaluation of States index measures economic performance over a given time period based on the percentage change in six areas: employment, personal income, house prices, mortgage delinquencies, state tax revenue, and the stock value of publicly traded companies based in the state. For the time he was Florida's governor -- from January 1999 to January 2007 -- the state did well in almost all of them.
By the end of Bush's tenure, the number of private-sector jobs had increased 20 percent -- the fifth-best performance in the country during that period, and better than Texas, another Sun Belt state with a growing population (and a former governor running for president). And the quality of jobs improved: Personal income rose 68 percent, also fifth-best nationwide.
The state's housing market also outperformed most of the country while Bush was in office: Home prices rose in Florida more than anywhere but California and the District of Columbia, while mortgage delinquencies fell 19 percent. Delinquencies in the median state rose 19 percent during the same period.
On the final two measures -- stock prices for Florida-based companies and the growth in state tax revenue -- Florida was about average. Still, taking all those metrics together, Bloomberg's index ranks Florida's economic performance third in the country during Bush's tenure, trailing only Idaho and Hawaii.
You could quibble with the metrics that Bloomberg's economic data team chose; you could also argue that Bush was lucky to leave office when he did, before the recession hit. But he can still claim a record that any other candidate would love to brag about. (Not least Scott Walker, whose own economic record doesn't hold up well under scrutiny.) And past performance is a better predictor of future outcomes than campaign pledges.
So why doesn't Bush's record seem to be doing him much good? One answer: While the economy and jobs are still among the most important problems people mention when asked by Gallup, those issues are edged out by dissatisfaction with government. Illegal immigration also ranks high. If you're a Republican primary voter and those are your issues, then Jeb Bush probably isn't your candidate.
A better answer is that this primary campaign isn't really about which candidate is likely to do the best job governing, but who can best reflect the wishes and anxieties of their target voters. So when Walker weakens unions, it doesn't really matter how that affects Wisconsin's economy. The same goes for whether Rand Paul's push against reforming federal surveillance was likely to make the problem better or worse. Ditto for Marco Rubio's mindless hawkishness on foreign policy.
The problem with judging candidates based on ideological purity is that it takes away from talking about which candidate is likely to advance the goals that voters broadly agree are important -- not least creating jobs and raising household incomes. At some point, one of these people might become president, and that person will need to work on those goals, whether they talked about them during the campaign or not.
This doesn't mean Jeb Bush is the best candidate; the results of his efforts at reform in big policy areas, including education and health care, were mixed to poor. But by overlooking Bush's economic successes, Republicans aren't just increasing the odds of getting a weaker, if more emotionally satisfying, presidential nominee. They're also reinforcing a system in which results don't matter and candidates are measured by the appeal of their promises. That's the kind of trick liberals are supposed to fall for.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.
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