Jeb Bush

Forget Meerkat and Snapchat. For the GOP front-runner, the medium that matters was invented in 1895. Lead image by Illustration by POLITICO / Getty Image.


By Michael Kruse
March 22, 2015

“He’s not a conservative.” That’s Rush Limbaugh talking about Jeb Bush. “The ideal, the perfect ticket, for the 2016 election: Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush. Now, they can figure out who’s on top of the ticket on their own, but when you compare their positions, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, on the key, important issues, they are two peas in the same pod.” That, too.

“You know what Jeb Bush is? He’s an old-time liberal Republican.” That’s Mark Levin.

“If I had to bet right now, he’d be the nominee; and if I had to bet right now, he’ll lose.” And that’s Laura Ingraham.

This is what people mean when they say the man who would be the third Bush president has a talk radio problem. He has a talk radio problem, conservative activist and writer Brent Bozell said, because he has “a conservative problem.” He has a talk radio problem, Ingraham said, because he has an “electability” problem. “To me,” Ingraham told POLITICO, “Jeb is the easiest candidate for Hillary to beat by far because he divides the GOP at a time when we need a candidate who unifies the party. … He’s made it fairly clear that he believes he can win without conservatives.” The way Glenn Beck has put it: “I think Jeb Bush … despises people like us.”

Bush, who’s all but officially announced he’s running for president, has said he would want to run a “joyful” campaign. He’s said he would want to have “adult conversations.” It’s phrasing that hints at his general distaste for conservative talk radio. Some Bush allies privately refer to some of the medium’s leaders as “warlords”—a description meant to convey the unreasonable, unrealistic and pugilistic agenda of those who thrive off of conflict. Bush, on the other hand, believes a winning Republican campaign a decade and a half into the 21st century must promote inclusion and optimism, not discontent and fear. People think he’s too moderate in part because Limbaugh and the Limbaugh-like are saying he is. So here, almost a year before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, the primaries have started already—the fundraising and positioning of the so-called invisible primary, but a visible one, too, or at least an audible one. Call it the Rush primary.

Every Republican politician of a certain consequence over the last quarter-century has had to make a decision about how to engage with Limbaugh and the many others who populate America’s most redward airwaves. Bush right now isn’t talking about this because (1) it’s so early in the campaign the campaign can’t even technically be called a campaign and (2) that would be unwise. Limbaugh and his imitative competitors don’t need additional oxygen. But based on conversations with strategists and advisers connected to Bush, consultants, show hosts and industry watchers—and what he’s done over the past month—Bush won’t ignore talk radio.

If there is in fact a Rush primary, Bush, headstrong and self-assured, thinks he can win that one, too.

“While not a folksy storyteller, you want to listen to him not because he’s a preacher, but because he’s a teacher,” said David Aufhauser, a former senior Treasury official and Bush backer who co-hosted a fundraiser for him last month in McLean, Virginia. On talk radio, Aufhauser said, “in the long run, his scholar’s passion and personal will will win over even the most doubting of Thomases.”

“Jeb is a guy who knows what he’s talking about,” said Ed Rogers, the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm called the BGR Group. “He won’t shirk his critics or his opponents.”


“Talk radio is a lot more than Rush Limbaugh,” Bozell said. “Talk radio is several Rush Limbaughs, but in every media market, virtually every media market in America, there is what we call mini-Limbaughs—the local host who dominates.”

Limbaugh, though, is the host who’s been doing this the loudest and the longest.

He has the most history with the Bushes, too.

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