Are Bush/Rubio Business Records a Problem For Republicans?

So it seems the Washington Post is conducting a pretty serious examination of the personal business and financial records of leading GOP presidential candidates. Over the weekend Robert O’Harrow, Jr. and Tom Hamburger shone a spotlight on Jeb Bush’s history of being a politically connected middle-man in deals involving people who wound up wearing orange. And today Hamburger and Sean Sullivan explore Rubio’s similar if more geographically limited associations, explained or aggravated, depending on how you look at it, by his own less-than-brilliant personal financial management.

There will be plenty of time to get into the weeds on these issues, which aren’t going anywhere. I would, however, like to make one point I’m not hearing others make. It’s an obvious thing to speculate about how Bush or Rubio’s money issues compare to the Clintons’ in a general election context. But do either of them perhaps have a problem with Republicans that could affect their primary campaigns? Bush’s business record, after all, appears to involve an extended exercise in what conservatives call “crony capitalism,” making hay at the intersection of business and politics. Rubio shares some of that problem, but you have to wonder at what point Republican donors and activists and even voters start wondering if Marco shares their own self-righteous skill and probity in handling money.

Keep in mind that the dominant conservative narrative about the financial crisis and the Great Recession was that the federal government pushed and pulled financial institutions into making a vast number of loans to non-creditworthy people, who predictably couldn’t meet their obligations and wrecked the housing market and then the economy–demanding government bailouts the entire time. The entire Tea Party movement began as a red-hot moral objection to those people getting any more tax dollars. That perspective–essentially the creditors’ perspective–has not gone away, and it’s a universal class thing, as evidenced by the reactions here and in Europe to the plight of the Greeks.

I’m dwelling on Rubio here in part because I think he is probably the GOP’s strongest potential presidential nominee. But among conservatives being good at handling money is often considered a character issue, more so than being kind or generous or even honest or smart. So this could bite Marco Rubio in the butt big time, probably more than the suspicion some will have that Jeb Bush got rich being the right guy in the right place by virtue of his connections rather than luck or skill.

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.