What have Iowans learned about Jeb Bush from his visit?
The former Florida governor and potential Republican 2016 presidential candidate is in Iowa this weekend, where he addresses issues – such as immigration and ethanol use – that could affect how conservatives view his bid for the nation’s top office.
Mr. Bush, a frontrunner for the Republican primary, is kicking off his race to the White House carrying a long and not-uncheckered legacy from his father and brother. He also faces substantial opposition within the party and among conservative voters for failing what The New York Times calls “the conservative litmus test” on key issues such as Common Core educational standards and immigration.
"It's hard to reconcile his membership in the Republican Party as anything more than a multigenerational family tradition," Cary Gordon, a pastor at a church in Sioux City, told The Des Moines Register this week. "He appears to be a Republican in name, but not necessarily a Republican in heart and head."
It’s no surprise that Bush arrived in Iowa determined to prove his conservative credentials.
The former governor began the Iowa leg of his trip at a dessert reception for a freshman GOP representative Friday night, where he took the opportunity to remind his audience about his conservative record during his two terms in Florida,
As NBC News reported:
He touted vetoing more than 2700 line items in the state budget, greatly expanding the school voucher system, reducing the state government's workforce by 13,000 and diminishing affirmative action.
Het also criticized President Obama’s foreign policy.
Obama, he said, is "the first president since World War II who does not believe that American power is a force for good" in the world. The president's approach, he added, has brought "uncertainty, instability and greater risk" to the nation.
On Saturday, Bush appeared with eight other potential Republican presidential candidates at the first-ever Iowa Agriculture Summit, where he earned himself a standing ovation for again slamming Obama’s executive decisions – this time regarding his executive actions – while commending the local cuisine.
"This president has used his authority – authority he doesn't have – to go way beyond what any president has done before,” Bush told the largely Republican crowd, according to ABC News.
He also remembered to praise the local fare, recalling how during his father’s campaign trip to Iowa, “I probably went to at least 50 of the counties, if not more," he said, according to ABC News. "I remember eating well, eating really, really well."
"The rule of law is a sacred value in our country, and we need to enforce our border," he said, and added that America must ensure that "legal immigration will be easier than illegal immigration.”
Things got stickier when it came to an issue vital to Iowa’s economy: The Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires corn-based ethanol to be used in US gasoline.
Iowa produces 30 percent of the country’s ethanol, and state representatives on both sides of the aisle are pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to renew a mandate that ethanol be included in gasoline, The Boston Globe reported.
Oil companies have said the ethanol rule represents too much government regulation, while some environmental groups have noted that the use of ethanol in gasoline has negative impacts on the environment.
[W]hether it's ethanol or any other alternative fuel, renewable or otherwise, the market's ultimately going to have to decide this," Bush said, according to CBS News. “At some point, we'll see a reduction of the RFS need because ethanol will be such a valuable part of the energy feedstock for our country.”
Bush’s performance so far has left some voters feeling positive, but far from decided, about who they'll back in the Republican primary.
"I thought his speech was great," Cindy Snell of Norwalk told The Washington Post. "He made a good impression and answered the questions well." But, she added, "I'm keeping my options open.”
The trip to Iowa is part of a tour of early voting states. He was in Nevada on Monday and flies to New Hampshire and South Carolina next week, completing a two-week swing that hits the first four states in the presidential primary calendar, notes CNN.