CPAC: Jeb Bush survives conservative grassroots gauntlet

Jeb Bush speaks at the 2015 CPAC conference. Image copyright Getty Images

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has the money, national profile and, yes, last name to mount a convincing campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

The one thing he didn't have was the support of much of the crowd during this week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Mentioning Mr Bush was a good way to prompt a smattering of boos on Thursday. On Friday morning conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham repeatedly bashed the governor, joking that he and Hillary Clinton "could run on the same ticket".

When he took the stage on Friday afternoon, however, the hall was packed, a rumoured mass walkout didn't materialise, and any boos were drowned out by more cheers.

It was enough to fuel snide talk from some of bussed-in supporters and underhanded tactics.

The general disposition of the crowd didn't influence the sharp tenor of the questions from firebrand Fox News host Sean Hannity, however. Standing next to Mr Bush, he quickly turned to the two issues that have attracted most of the ire from CPAC's grassroots conservative activists - immigration and education reform.

On the former Mr Bush stood by his call for a "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants and his move as governor to provide them with in-state college tuition. "I know there's disagreement here," he noted.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeb Bush says his mother now supports "another Bush in the White House"

He added that the underage migrants who flooded the US from Central America last year should have been "sent home at the border", however, and that "a great country needs to enforce the borders".

He also defended his education policies - and made a particular effort to emphasise his long-time support for vouchers that allow students to attend private and parochial schools with public money. As for the national Common Core education standards that he has vigourously supported, he said much of the conservative concern was due to the intrusion of the Obama administration.

"The federal government has no role in the creation of curriculum and content," he said.

After working through those questions without a major stumble, the tough part was behind the former governor. He went on to discuss the need to "take out" the Islamic State and what he sees as President Barack Obama's lack of foreign policy leadership - views that have been reliably popular throughout the conference.

When asked whether he was a moderate, Mr Bush emphatically replied no. He's a "practicing, reform-minded conservative," he said. "I've actually done it."

At the start of the interview, Hannity reminded Mr Bush that his mother had said that she didn't know if we need "another Bush in the White House". Mr Bush replied that she's "had a change of heart - and that's all right by me".

It looks increasingly likely that Mr Bush will find out if it's also all right with the US public.