Bush Versus Walker Mainly a Choice of Strategies, Not Policies

Greg Sargent makes a point today that we may well have reason to keep in mind throughout the Invisible Primary for 2016. There is an emerging media narrative that the GOP presidential contest may come down to a conservatives-versus-Establishment choice between Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. That will give everybody a good excuse to treat these two men as though they are from different planets. But do their philosophies and policies differ in any important respects? Maybe not so much:

On immigration, it’s true that Bush has leaned harder into the need for legalization by talking about the morally nuanced plight of undocumented immigrants and allowing that they have a positive contribution to make to American society. But both support eventual legalization only after the border is secured. Will their very real tonal difference show up in real policy differences?

On inequality, Walker may employ harsher rhetoric about the safety net than Bush does, but the evidence suggests that both are animated by the underlying worldview that one of the primary problems in American life is that we have too much government-engineered downward redistribution of wealth. As Noam Scheiber documents, most of the other GOP candidates are hostile to any government role in combating inequality. But voters outside the Tea Party base support raising taxes on the rich to expand programs for poor people and think such programs do them more good than harm. Some reform conservatives are urging the candidates to break from the party’s economic dogma. Will Walker and Bush differentiate themselves from one another in economic policy terms in the least?

It’s true Bush has shown some signs of interest in the Reformicon thing, though mainly just by hiring April Ponnuru. But even the Reformicons have trouble bringing themselves to break from any significant tenets of conservative orthodoxy, viz. the tax proposals they have inspired that concede vast tax breaks to the wealthy to make it easier for the Right to swallow a little help for the working poor.

The important thing is not assuming Bush and Walker represent anything new or different from each other just because they offer different theories of electability and different ways of talking to swing and base voters. Much of what has characterized all the recent intra-party “fights” within the GOP has reflected arguments over strategy and tactics rather than ideology and goals. I’d say there is a rebuttable presumption that will continue into the 2016 presidential contest.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.