New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin hit the New Hampshire hustings for his Page 1 slot in Monday's paper, "Bush and Walker Point G.O.P. to Contrary Paths." Martin made it clear where those paths lead: Either up to the sunny moderate climes of colorful diversity with Jeb Bush, or down a dispiritingly white conservative lockstep path with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
In Martin's condescending take, Jeb Bush is on a mission to tell hard truths to his party: That Republicans "must accept a changing country: that the path to the presidency will be found through appealing to voters who may not look like them."
Bush, a two-term former governor of Florida, has indeed taken pains to separate himself from conservatives on some issues, and the Times, especially Martin, has taken the bait, issuing flattering profiles. At the same time Martin has deployed liberal condescension against a potential conservative opponent of Jeb Bush -- Mike Huckabee, snidely derided as a "cheerleader of artery-clogging calories" for opposing Michelle Obama's strict dietary restrictions.
Martin was a bit starry-eyed over Jeb Bush on Monday.
As Jeb Bush mingled with Hispanic workers on a company tour a few weeks ago on his first trip here as an all-but-declared candidate for president, he was able to guess the region in Colombia where one woman was born just from hearing her accent.
That night, he told Republicans that their party had to “go out and reach out to people of every walk of life, not with a divisive message but one that is unifying.”
A day later, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, making his own maiden New Hampshire swing, proudly donned a hat given to him by a gun-rights group and, highlighting his frugality, bragged about the sweater he had bought at Kohl’s for a dollar.
Mr. Bush, a privileged scion who married a Mexican woman and boasts of being bicultural, reflects his polyglot adopted hometown, Miami, and state. He is telling Republicans, in effect, that they must accept a changing country: that the path to the presidency will be found through appealing to voters who may not look like them, and with a standard-bearer whose state and immediate family resemble tomorrow’s America.
Mr. Walker, a small-town minister’s son who met his wife, a Milwaukee native, at a Wisconsin barbecue joint, is a product of one of the most politically and racially polarized regions of the country, metropolitan Milwaukee. He has succeeded by confronting his adversaries and by generating soaring levels of support from his fellow Republicans in a state they have failed to carry in a presidential race for more than three decades. The party’s way forward, by Mr. Walker’s lights, lies in demonstrating toughness in the face of intense opposition from the left and mobilizing those who are already inclined to support conservatism.
Applied to the electoral map, the inside route would most likely mean that Mr. Walker would try to capture a band of Midwestern and Great Lakes states filled with the sort of working-class white voters he reflects. He frequently notes that Republicans have not carried Wisconsin since 1984, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he could. He also would surely eye four other Rust Belt states President Obama carried both times: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Martin massages Bush and Walker's positions to maximum Bush's "backbone" while making the conservative Walker look like a cynical, finger-to-the-wind pol.
Mr. Bush’s message is to challenge and persuade his own party. He sticks to his support for an immigration overhaul and backs the Common Core education standards, unpopular stances with many conservatives. Facing criticism and trying to convert skeptics rather than bending to the will of the party base, Mr. Bush has said, are a sign of “backbone.”
Mr. Walker, by contrast, aims to reinforce what Republicans believe and reassure them that they are right. He has changed his views on both immigration and the Common Core, realigning himself with the party base and suggesting that this shows he is responsive to voters.
Their language differs noticeably, too, on racially charged issues.
Mr. Bush proudly tells of having ended racial preferences at Florida’s universities, but in the next breath adds, as he said in February, that the state wound up with “more African-American and Hispanic kids attending our university system” than before.
Mr. Walker wins applause by noting his efforts to require drug tests of people receiving public assistance, and uses language reminiscent of old, loaded appeals about indolent welfare recipients. Answering a question in Iowa about food stamps, he turned to a metaphor about his sons’ high school football days.
“In all the years I watched them play football,” he said, “there never once was a guy that got called in the game who was sitting on the bench with his helmet off, with his feet up.”
Martin worked some furiously creative negative spin on Walker's conservative, limited government philosophy:
Whether trying to restrain the influence of public-sector unions or to hold those on welfare accountable, Mr. Walker is practicing the politics of scarcity, said Matt K. Lewis, a conservative writer.
“This approach lends itself to tribalism,” said Mr. Lewis, who is working on a book about how conservatives can adapt to the future. “It’s ‘If those other people take what we have, we can’t have it.’ ”
But if some on the right view Mr. Walker’s approach as dispiritingly dark, many conservatives see Mr. Bush’s inclusive tone and willingness to offer illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status as more Pollyanna than panacea -- especially given polls showing Hispanics are more liberal on other issues.