Almost overnight, former governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jeb Bush of Florida have transformed the 2016 GOP presidential campaign into a mad scramble for support and funding for a lengthy and hard-fought battle.
By telling a private gathering of donors last week that he’s on the verge of mounting his third campaign for president, Romney essentially threw down a challenge to Bush – a member of one of the most famous political families in American history – to slug it out for the hearts and wallets of business leaders, major donors and other establishment Republicans.
The two are essentially center-right politicians, in contrast with Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and other Tea Party favorites mulling presidential races. Because Romney and Bush would be appealing to essentially the same base of voters, their positions on key issues may be decisive in determining which one survives a grueling campaign.
Though both have evolved in their positions over the years, here is a summary of where they stand right now on seven key issues:
Bush: He is a solid advocate of the Common Core, the new standards adopted by 45 states and D.C. to boost academic achievement and allow for comparisons across states. Most potential GOP presidential contenders have denounced the program as Russian-style centralized government or unnecessary meddling in local and state concerns.
Romney: He’s staunchly opposed to Common Core. During his 2012 presidential campaign, he said, “I don’t subscribe to the idea of the federal government trying to push a common core on various states . . . To financially reward states based upon accepting the federal government’s idea of a curriculum, I think, is a mistake.”
Bush: He argued in 1994 that gay people did not deserve special legal protection and that “sodomy” should not be “elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion.” Now, Bush says that people should accept court rulings that legalize same-sex marriage and “show respect” for gays in committed relationships. At the same time, he restated his long-held belief that “marriage is a sacrament.”
Romney: He opposes legalizing same-sex marriage. Last February, he reaffirmed his support for traditional marriage on Meet the Press, saying, “I think marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman… And I think the ideal setting for raising a child is in a setting where there’s a father and mother.”
Bush: His views on this have been a work in progress, beginning with his harsh declaration in 1994 that the government should “start deporting” illegal immigrants. At one time, he wrote a grant of citizenship to illegals was an “undeserving reward for conduct we cannot afford to encourage. Recently, Bush – whose wife Columba is a Mexican-born American – has taken a more flexible stand. “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony,” he said of illegal immigrants in April 2014. “It’s an act of love, an act of commitment to your family.”
Related: Fight Over Obama’s Immigration Order Shows Cracks in GOP Armor
Romney: In 2012, he advocated illegal immigrants consider “self-deportation,” a pronouncement not received well by Hispanics. Romney garnered about 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the general election. He since seems to have altered his stance: In May, he told a crowd at a campaign rally for then-candidate and now Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa that Congress must pass immigration reform by 2016.
Bush: Throughout his governorship, Bush highlighted his staunch social conservatism, particularly in opposing embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights. He signed into law a parental notification measure for teenage girls considering abortion and supported a controversial “choose life” specialty license plate. In 2003, he asked a court to appoint a representative for the fetus of a mentally disabled rape victim. That same year, Bush launched a nearly two-year crusade to keep alive Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman whose family battled in court over whether to terminate her life support.
Romney: Up until 2011, Romney publicly declared himself pro-life, said he didn’t support federally funding abortions and advocated overturning Roe v. Wade. After winning the GOP nomination in 2012, he said he wouldn’t make abortion legislation part of his presidential agenda – a move to appeal to female voters, critics said.
Bush: Despite mounting evidence that climate change threatens the environment, Bush has long been a skeptic. “I think global warming may be real,” he said in a 2011 Fox interview. He added there is a dispute among scientists as to the source of the problem. His views haven’t changed much since then, and he says he fears that harsh restrictions on carbon emissions would harm the U.S. industrial base.
Romney: He waivered on how he would address the threat of climate change. He’s acknowledged the planet is warming up and something must be done to address it, yet he hasn’t publicly accepted the cause of global warming and is staunchly opposed to President Obama’s executive actions to reduce carbon emissions. “We don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us” he said during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Bush: Like his father and brother, Jeb Bush is a staunch foreign policy interventionist who has been critical of Obama’s defense and foreign policy stewardship. In a recent speech, he complained the U.S. has been steadily pulling back or retrenching. He sounded notes of concerns on nearly every quarter of the world, including Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to The Miami Herald. He joined other Florida politicians in condemning Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Romney: He has publicly supported the use of “boots on the ground” to address the growing threat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He’s been extremely critical of Obama’s action to combat ISIS and told CBS’s Face the Nation more must be done: “When the president says, for instance, that ISIS is a cancer and it must be eliminated, he’s right. But you don’t say, ‘Well, we’re only going to use the following tools in doing so.’ You say, ‘We’re going to do whatever it takes.’” Romney has also been highly critical of Obama’s defense cuts. In 2012, he campaigned to increase the size of the Pentagon’s budget, saying he wanted to increase the military’s size by at least 100,000 troops.
Bush: For years Bush has called the Affordable Care Act “flawed to its core” and a big political problem for Democrats. Unlike other Republicans who have repeatedly called for repeal or dismantlement, Bush has counseled standing back and basically letting the health insurance program collapse of its own weight. He says Republicans should rally round an alternative program with a much lower cost and improved quality based on free market principles.
Romney: He has routinely criticized Obamacare, which was largely modeled after his own health care plan in Massachusetts when he was governor. In a 2012 op-ed in USA Today, Romney called for repealing Obamacare – saying the program was “an unfolding disaster for the American economy, a budget-busting entitlement, and a dramatic new federal intrusion into our lives.” Instead of Obamacare, Romney says health care reform should be done at the state level. “What we need is a free market, federalist approach to making quality, affordable health insurance available to every American.”
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