If Jeb Bush Panders to the CPAC Crowd, He’ll Lose Votes

If Jeb Bush Panders to the CPAC Crowd, He’ll Lose Votes

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Here’s what Republicans hope will not emerge from CPAC — more candidates. GOP hopefuls will pack this year’s annual conservative get-together like a Mario Buatta living room — overwhelming the senses. There will be voices from across the right-leaning spectrum, but some will resonate more loudly than others. For a couple, especially Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, the event could be a game-changer. For Jeb Bush, who has yet to bring conservatives over to his side, it is a huge opportunity.

Popular candidates Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal all have a chance to make their case today, while Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush will appear tomorrow. It’s a terrific beauty pageant, with so many capable contestants that judges — GOP primary voters — may well be overwhelmed.

Related: CPAC Alert: Conservatives Predict SCOTUS Will Rule Against Obamacare

In addition to the Big Names, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, will speak today. Fiorina lost her only political campaign to date — running for the Senate from California, a race that left debts and doubters in its wake. But she is capable and fearless — already making waves by telling Hillary Clinton, “Flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.”

That’s a great line, and it’s the kind of retort that should remind voters that Hillary, for all her jet-setting, posted few diplomatic wins during her four years as Secretary of State. Fiorina may well generate some interest as a possible VP candidate. As Republicans strategize over how to defeat Clinton, sure to be a Billion-dollar Baby, women in the ranks like Kelly Ayotte or Susana Martinez — or maybe Fiorina — will doubtless be considered as running mates, if they don’t earn a spot at the top of the ticket.

Then there’s Dr. Ben Carson, who made his name taking on Obamacare at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. (These prayer breakfasts turn out to be painful events for Obama; he might want to give it a pass next year.) Carson has had hugely positive polling; for instance, in a theoretical match-up last year with Hillary Clinton, he outperformed Cruz, Perry and Paul, Rubio and Bush – in other words, nearly everybody. Most do not consider him likely to go the distance, because of his narrow track. That could change, depending on his CPAC performance.

Related: Get Off the Dole and Get a Job: Ben Carson

Jeb Bush has a shot at CPAC of turning around skeptical conservatives. He needs, in particular, to address their concerns about his positive views on immigration reform and Common Core. He needs to stand his ground and explain why having 11 million people in the country unlawfully is untenable, and how he would resolve this hot-button issue.

He also needs to explain how instituting federal education standards, to insure that every child receives a reasonable education, does not mean taking curriculum positions out of the hands of local school districts. For my money, it is essential that he emerge credible; if he tries to twist his positions to garner favor with the CPAC crowd, the rest of the country will dismiss his claims that he wants to run on the issues. 

Democrats will doubtless enjoy watching the GOP contenders go after each other. On the other hand, they should be anxious – where are the young and fresh Democrat candidates who will make their names in this cycle and go on to lead the party? Is Hillary really that inevitable?

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After more than two decades on Wall Street as a top-ranked research analyst, Liz Peek became a columnist and political analyst. Aside from The Fiscal Times, she writes for FoxNews.com, The New York Sun and Women on the Web.