The National Journal's Ron Fournier interviewed Jeb Bush and had a lot of trouble getting the former governor to sound like, well, a Republican. He asked Bush whether Democratic politicians and liberal governance were to blame for Detroit's demise. "I don't know that that matters anymore," Bush replied.
Bush, it seems, mainly wanted to talk about Uber. Even when he begins talking about politics, he really seems to be talking about Uber. "You look at these big industrial organizations — and, by the way, politics would be one of them, the Republican and Democratic parties — and the old order has been clearly disrupted," Bush says. "Don't you think?"
Fournier's conclusion is that "if his brother, former President George W. Bush, was a compassionate conservative, Bush is trying to be a 21st-century conservative — a center-right leader who talks more about reforming government than shrinking it, even if the results are the same."
Reading the interview and Bush's recent speech, I'd put it slightly differently. Bush isn't running as any kind of conservative, at least not right now. Rather, he's running as something a bit odder: a Republican technocrat. He wants to be the data guy, the operations guys, the guy who cares little for ideology but deeply for evidence. "The answer isn't no government," he told Fournier. "The answer is smarter, effective government." He sounds like Obama.
The problem is that the Republican Party doesn't much like technocrats. The closest they've come in recent years is Paul Ryan, who speaks technocrat, even as he breathes conservatism. Mitt Romney probably is a technocrat, but in order to win his party's nomination, he became severely conservative and lost much of whatever technocratic cred he had in the process.
There are two reasons for this, mainly. One is that conservatives are innately skeptical of technocrats. "I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University," William F. Buckley famously said.
The other is that the Republican Party is committed to a set of policy ends that make life hell for anyone trying to draw up a credible plan. The GOP is committed to balancing the budget while refusing all tax increases. It also wants to avoid annihilating itself as a political party by proposing draconian spending cuts. One of these conditions has to give. But conservatives don't want to budge on any of them, which is how you get fiascos like Mitt Romney's tax plan.
In a smart piece, Matt Yglesias read Bush's big speech as a cover letter for Mayor of the United States of America — a job that doesn't exist. But after reading this interview, I wonder if Bush's more proximate challenge is he's trying to appeal to a party that doesn't exist. The modern Republican Party is no place for technocrats. And Bush doesn't seem inclined to run as a conservative.