In his speeches and appearances, Jeb Bush readily points to his conservative credentials — tax cuts and smaller government as Florida's governor — yet convincing the activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference that he's one of them might be a tougher sell.
A sign of what Bush faces at CPAC: His speech Friday in Washington follows those by conservative heroes Sen. Marco Rubio, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Rand Paul and former Sen. Rick Santorum. Tea party activist William Temple is urging people to walk out when Bush takes the podium.
"We're tired of CPAC inviting non-conservatives to come to speak," Temple told the Associated Press.
And then there is the challenge laid down for the party faithful by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Speaking at CPAC on Thursday, Cruz told an enthusiastic audience that Republicans must not let themselves be tricked into picking a moderate presidential nominee in 2016, instead demanding that hopefuls have a demonstrated commitment to conservatism.
Although he didn't mention Bush by name, he may as well have.
Cruz, himself a likely presidential candidate, warned activists gathered at the CPAC in Oxon Hill, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., that voters who pick the GOP nominee are likely to hear a similar pitch: "You betcha. Who-diddley. I'm as conservative as all get out."
But, without naming names, Cruz suggested that many of those likely candidates lacked the records to back it up.
Cruz offered his record of standing in opposition to President Barack Obama's efforts on health care, immigration and foreign policy — as well as his own party's leadership in the Senate at times.
"If a candidate tells you that they oppose Obamacare — fantastic! When have you stood up and fought against it?" he asked of his potential rivals, many of them who are slated to address the audience on Friday.
"Actions speak far, far louder than words. We need to look to people who walk the walk," he added.
Speaking in Palm Beach, Florida, on Thursday at a meeting of the anti-tax group Club for Growth, Bush gave what could be a warm-up to his CPAC appearance. He recounted eight years of pushing tax cuts, job growth and smaller government as governor.
"I ran as a conservative," Bush assured more than 200 people at the group's winter meeting in Palm Beach. "I said what I was going to do, and I had a chance to do it. And, trust me, I did."
Bush maintained that his accomplishments in Florida could be duplicated on the national stage.
"If you apply conservative principles and you stick with it, and you have the leadership skills to bring people toward the cause, you can move the needle on these things," he said. "I reject the notion that we can't solve problems, that the gridlock is too enormous to forge consensus. It requires some creativity to get to a win for everybody.
To his would-be rivals for the GOP nomination, Bush suggested that their talk of pursuing conservative goals is cheap.
"It's easy to talk about it," he said. "I hope you believe that you want someone who has the proven leadership skills to make it happen."
Bush is well-prepared for criticism that he's not conservative enough for CPAC activists. Speaking to the Club for Growth, he ticked through eight consecutive years of tax cuts, totaling $19 billion, a state workforce cut by 13,000 and 1.3 million more jobs in 2007 when he left office than when he entered in 1999. He also signed Florida's "stand your ground" gun law and tried to prevent a brain-damaged woman, Terri Schiavo, from having her feeding tube removed.
Today's criticism of Bush centers almost entirely on his support for Common Core and an immigration policy that would create a path to citizenship for people living in the country illegally. He is also hurt by lingering resentment over the rise in government spending during the administration of his brother, President George W. Bush.
Just 4 in 10 self-identified conservatives and tea party supporters rated Bush favorably in an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this month.
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