Jeb Bush Meets With a Cautious Scott Walker

Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker visited La Casa de Esperanza in Waukesha, Wis., on Monday for an event about school choice.

By Ashley Parker – – –

Leaving an event here with Gov. Scott Walker, Jeb Bush said he would be happy to land Mr. Walker’s endorsement in the 2016 presidential race.

“I’d love to have his support, of course,” Mr. Bush said.

Left unsaid: He would rather avoid the rest of Mr. Walker’s presidential trajectory — starting at the front of the pack with high expectations, only to fall precipitously and bow out amid a sheen of disappointment and finger-pointing.

But the tableau of Mr. Bush and Mr. Walker — clad in black suits, American flag pins and subdued ties (green for Mr. Bush, red for Mr. Walker) — underscored the challenges in this presidential cycle, which has upended the conventional rules of politics and so far favored Washington outsiders over governors with executive experience, like Mr. Bush and Mr. Walker.

This past week, at a Hispanics for School Choice event at La Casa de Esperanza here, the two men came together around a shared passion for school choice, each one nodding and politely clapping when the other spoke. At one point, when Mr. Bush promoted his own state — “Guess what state leads the nation in learning gains for kids with disabilities? Florida,” he said — Mr. Walker looked slightly disappointed that Mr. Bush hadn’t instead answered “Wisconsin,” but merely cocked his head to the side and continued bobbing along.

“Why would that be?” Mr. Bush continued. “Quite simply, when you empower parents, giving them the power to choose, everybody gets better because they’re now having to compete for your dollars. Parent power is what this should be about.”

Mr. Walker, who called upon his rivals to coalesce around a “conservative alternative” to Donald J. Trump when he ended his presidential run, has said he is not ready to endorse a 2016 candidate. But that hasn’t stopped them from trying to woo him.

Mr. Bush’s team, for instance, reached out to Mr. Walker about doing a school choice event when Mr. Bush was in the area for the fourth Republican presidential debate Tuesday night.

But operatives say they don’t expect Mr. Walker — who during his short-lived presidential run was cordial if dismissive of Mr. Bush, at one point describing him as “a name from the past” — to jump behind the former Florida governor anytime soon, if at all.

“There are very few incentives for Scott Walker to sign onto the Jeb campaign, because it’s probably got a very familiar trajectory for him,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk radio host here. “He’s probably got a very keen understanding of what is happening to the Bush campaign right now, and it’s probably very familiar and he’s not going to want to get on that train twice this year.”

The campaign of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has also reached out to Mr. Walker. Mr. Rubio called Mr. Walker shortly after the debate in Boulder, Colo., late last month, and the two men appeared at a closed-door Republican fund-raiser in Wisconsin on Monday evening, after Mr. Walker had finished at La Casa de Esperanza. They also met privately.

After both Mr. Bush and Mr. Walker spoke, the men took three questions from students, including one on why graduation rates for black students are too low (“I think high school graduation rates are too low for everybody, for starters,” Mr. Bush said) and if all families in Wisconsin should get to pick the best schools for their children (yes).

Turning to the final student questioner, Mr. Bush quipped: “By the way, those three questions — they’re better than the moderated debate questions. Just saying. If you’re free tomorrow night, maybe you can come by the arena.”

Mr. Bush, who lost a critical exchange with Mr. Rubio in the most recent Republican debate, needs to post a stronger showing at Tuesday night’s debate in Milwaukee to assuage donor concerns. When asked on Monday about the debate, he sounded optimistic.

“I’m looking forward to it, absolutely,” Mr. Bush said. “I’m going to talk to the American people tomorrow.”

Mr. Walker declined to offer any tips for Mr. Bush from his vantage point as a fellow Republican who had hit a rough patch in his own campaign.

“Oh, we’ll leave you guys talking to him,” Mr. Walker said. “We’re all here to tell about the good things that happened in Wisconsin.”

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