TIME 2016 Campaign

Why Presidential Candidates Must Answer Hypothetical Questions

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during an event at the Metropolitan University in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 28, 2015.
Ricardo Arduengo—AP Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during an event at the Metropolitan University in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 28, 2015.

One big word hides more than it reveals in presidential politics

Here’s a hypothetical to consider: If presidential candidates don’t want to answer serious policy questions, can they just call the question “hypothetical” and refuse?

Take your time. The answer is important. The functioning of our democratic process may depend upon it. Also, this is not really a hypothetical.

Just take a listen to Sean Hannity’s radio show Tuesday, when the host asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush a simple question: If he had been president in 2003 with the knowledge that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, would he still have invaded the country? “I don’t know what that decision would have been—that’s a hypothetical.” Never mind that he had just answered another hypothetical question, saying he would have made the same decision to go to war if he was president and was faced with the same intelligence as confronted his brother, George W. Bush.

On Wednesday, during a swing through Nevada, Bush faced similar questions once more, and responded with indignation. “Rewriting history is hypothetical,” he said, before not answering again. To accept the question’s premise, he continued, “does a disservice” to those in the military who died in the war, according to Bloomberg.

Bush is not the only likely presidential candidate who has used the word “hypothetical” as a get out of jail free card. PolitiFact has an long essay devoted to Hillary Clinton’s use of the “hypothetical” dodge while Secretary of State and a Presidential candidate. Recently TIME asked Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal whether he supports any pathway to legal status for those undocumented immigrants. “That’s a hypothetical conversation,” he responded, in an emailed statement. “Any attempt to deal with the millions of people who are currently in this country illegally prior to securing the border is illogical.”

The problem with all of these evasions is they seek to undermine the central—and hypothetical—question of the presidential selection process: If you were to become president, what kind of president would you be? Hypothetical means “of, based on, or serving a hypothesis,” from the ancient Greek “hupothesis,” which means to propose, to suppose, or literally, to put under. For nearly two years, the nation puts its candidates under a microscope of suppositions: How would you react as President to ISIS? What would you do to my taxes? How would you improve the economy?

So the issue is not whether or not candidates need to answer hypothetical questions, as Bush, Clinton and Jindal would suggest. Of course they do, and they do all the time. The question is what counterfactual scenarios they should be presented with, and what counterfactual scenarios are speculative, personal or misleading enough to be out of bounds.

In the past, the boundaries have been drawn rather broadly. Michael Dukakis was famously asked a death penalty question in 1988 about his wife that began, “If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered. . . .” John McCain was asked in 2000 whether he would support an abortion for his hypothetically pregnant 14-year-old daughter. In 2013, Chris Christie was asked in a debate what he would say if one of his children told him they were gay. Clinton eagerly answered a debate question in 2008 that asked what her military response would be to Al Qaeda attacking two more American cities simultaneously.

Maybe those questions were appropriate, and maybe they were not. But the fact that they were “hypothetical” was not the reason they were inappropriate. And in contrast to all of them, asking Jindal his views on his plans for 11 million undocumented immigrants seems rather tame. The question of whether Jeb Bush would support a foreign invasion in the absence of the threat of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons also seems, at least, germane.

Neither Bush or Jindal want to answer the questions because their answers would cost them. In answering on immigration, Jindal must choose between alienating a nativist strands of the Republican Party, and his electability in a hypothetical general election. Bush must choose between entertaining criticism of his brother and reassuring those in both parties still smarting from his brother’s foreign policy missteps.

So they say “hypothetical,” a word that is not enough. Candidates can refuse to answer, but they owe the voters more than a five-syllables in explanation. Is the hypothetical question misleading? Is it fanciful? Is it unfair? Is it inappropriately personal?

Or maybe they just need to answer one follow up question: If we want voters to believe that the presidential selection process works, what is the cost of allowing candidates to hide behind big words?

TIME Music

Here Are 4 of the Grateful Dead’s Best Shows Ever

The Grateful Dead At the Family Dog
Robert Altman—Getty Images From left: Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan, Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead perform onstage at The Family Dog in 1970 in San Francisco, Calif.

Some of the band's best shows can easily be heard online

Correction appended, May 6, 1025

You’re gonna have to trust me on this, kids.

Once upon a time, Rock ‘n’ Roll was exciting. Not Mumford and Sons-tries-to-sound-like-Coldplay exciting. Not new-U2-tries-to-sound-like-the-old-U2 exciting. Not some-Swedish-producer-found-a-way-to-get-better-sonics-from-an-acoustic-strum exciting. But really, shockingly, I have-no-idea-what-happens-next, can-you-really-do-that-with-an-electric-guitar exciting. Buddy Holly exciting. Velvet Underground exciting. Grateful Dead exciting. Exciting like a new Kanye track is today.

Those days are gone. Holly is history. Lou Reed passed to the wild side. And the Dead have been dead for years, though the surviving members, some now in their 70s, plan a resurrection this summer in Soldier Field, a final set of shows for an act that ended, depending on your point of view, when Jerry Garcia died in 1995 or at some point before, when he fell into his heroin addiction, or relapsed back into it, over a blur of tours, triumphs and burnouts during the preceding two decades.

But as the Dead hit their 50th anniversary, it is worth remembering them nonetheless. The band—which first played together on May 5, 1965, under the name The Warlocks—developed a strand of rock that will never be matched, because the ground cannot be broken again. By grafting the discipline of backwoods American roots music to the improvisation of Charlie Parker, Art Tatum and Django Reinhardt, they tied together two great eras of 20th-century American white-kid rebellion—the Beats and the Hippies—and then took it as far as their minds could stretch, with the early help of wide-eyed, West Coast LSD.

This was a band that suffered writing songs, struggled in the studio, but shot the moon on the stage. On any given night, they could be terrible or terrific, or both, and no single member of the band controlled the outcome. For at its core, it was an improv band, with each member of the group playing around his part in each song, stretching for something he had not achieved before. For years, they went on stage without set lists. For decades, they surprised even themselves.

So as a service to those who will never see a show, and who may now mistake the Grateful Dead for a parking lot scene of dread-locked dullards huffing nitrous balloons and seeking other chemical escapes from suburban malaise, here are a few of their better shows over the years, which are now archived online and available to stream for free.

Aug. 27, 1972 at the Olde Renaissance Faire Grounds in Veneta, Ore.

Listen:

 

June 9, 1973 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C. (Also the following night June 10, 1973.)

Listen:

 

Aug. 13, 1975 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, Calif.

Listen:

Correction: The original version of this piece misstated the date of the concert at the Old Renaissance Faire Grounds. It took place on Aug. 27, 1972.

TIME justice

Evangelicals Divided as Supreme Court Considers Gay Marriage

Supreme Court Gay Marriage
Andrew Harnik—AP A rainbow colored flag flies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, April 27, 2015, as the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage on Tuesday.

A longtime opponent of same-sex marriage, Pastor Samuel Rodriguez gave a benediction at the last Republican National Convention, sits on the executive board of the National Association of Evangelicals and will host two likely presidential candidates, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee, at a gathering of 1,000 Hispanic leaders in Texas on Wednesday.

But if you ask the founder of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference how Republicans should react if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to legalize gay marriage nationwide this year, he doesn’t toe a very hard line. “The Republican position will not be, ‘We will fight arduously to turn back what the Supreme Court has ruled,’ ” he said. “I don’t think you will hear that at all, as a matter of fact.”

Some of Rodriguez’s fellow Republican and social conservative leaders agree, but not all. In fact, it’s hard to find a single strategic plan for opponents of same-sex marriage, many of whom plan to gather Tuesday at the Supreme Court, where the justices will meet for the second time in two years to debate the constitutionality of gay and lesbian marriage bans. The case could lead to a decision that would outlaw same-sex marriage bans this June.

Tony Perkins, the head of the conservative Family Research Council, says that if the court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, the proper strategy is to mount a campaign against judicial overreach modeled after the pro-life campaign against the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found women had a constitutional right to an abortion. Decades after the decision, opponents of abortion continue to make legislative gains in statehouses across the country. “That issue is far from resolved and this will continue to be an issue in the political world from presidential races all the way down,” Perkins says.

Others like Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, say that the right move is to elevate the issue of marriage in the coming Republican primary contest. “From our view a bad decision will only reinforce how important it is to elect candidates who are going to be wise in appointing judges and justices,” Moore told TIME. “I don’t think a candidate who supports gay marriage could be nominated by the Republican Party right now.”

There is a third group of Christian leaders that have been encouraging even more drastic action: An effort by governors and legislatures to resist a Supreme Court ruling that strikes down bans on same-sex marriage. “Lincoln did not enforce Dred Scott decision,” Huckabee wrote in a recent email distributed by evangelical activist David Lane, referencing a court decision on slavery that helped spark the Civil War. “[A]nd there are several cases where Presidents (Jefferson and Jackson for example, which must be a challenge to Dems who celebrate Jefferson/Jackson Dinners) determined that the courts were wrong and refused to surrender to one of the three branches of government.”

“I’m stunned at the sitting Senators and Governors (Republican no less) who act as if when the SCOTUS rules, it’s forever settled,” Huckabee continued, using an acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States. “The 3 branches are EQUAL. The judicial cannot make nor enforce law.”

Read more: New Strategy Against Gay Marriage Divides 2016 Field

Those views could make for some interesting conversation among participants at Rodriguez’s conference this week. For Rodriguez, who has also been focused on issues like prison and immigration reform, the best strategy forward is to move away from the court’s decision and to start working to protect religious people and institutions who will continue to define marriage as between a man and a woman. “The major pivot will be social conservatives will say, ‘The future of American Christianity is at stake,’” Rodriguez said. “We have been labeled as bigots and homophobes when we are not, and oh boy, this election is about religious liberty and the future of American Christianity.”

But that vision assumes social conservatives speak with one voice, an outcome that is far from certain on the eve of Supreme Court arguments.

TIME Supreme Court

The Robert Menendez Corruption Charges Undermine the Supreme Court

Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.
Mark Wilson–Getty Images Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.

The Supreme Court said super PACs aren't prone to corruption. Prosecutors are alleging otherwise in a case against Sen. Robert Menendez.

Correction appended, April 2

In his 2010 State of the Union, President Obama famously criticized the Supreme Court’s logic on a campaign finance decision even as several justices sat in the audience.

Now, prosecutors at the U.S. Justice Department have found an even better way to make the case.

In their indictment of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, prosecutors have called foul on one of the central arguments for the court’s interpretation of campaign finance law in the Citizens United decision.

The indictment alleges that Florida opthamologist Solomon Melgen corruptly showered Menedez with gifts intended to influence official acts, from procuring visas for his foreign girlfriends to intervening in a dispute over Medicare billing. Among those things of value, according to prosecutors, was $600,000 in donations from Melgen’s company, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, earmarked to help Menedez’s reelection through a super PAC called Majority PAC.

Those donations came two years after Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a majority of the court in Citizens United v. FEC, ruled that such contributions to outside groups not directly controlled by candidates presented no risk of corruption or the appearance of corruption.

“This Court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Kennedy wrote. “That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.”

This argument was central to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow outside groups to collect and spend unlimited amounts of money to explicitly call for the election and defeat of a candidate for federal office. Since the money technically went to an organization not controlled by the candidate, the court reasoned, there was no sufficient government interest to stop it.

The indictment of Menendez, however, reveals in great detail the extent to which “independent” groups like Majority PAC have found ways to operate in close coordination with the candidate. And if Menendez is convicted, the case will prove that corruption can still be facilitated through these outside groups.

“The Citizens United court majority was obviously wrong in 2010 when it declared that independent expenditures can’t corrupt,” says Paul Ryan, an attorney for the Campaign Legal Center, who has long been critical of the decision. “Now we have concrete alleged evidence of how independent expenditures do corrupt.”

The indictment alleges that Melgen gave the money to support Menendez in two checks of $300,000. The first check was given on June 1, 2012, the very day when Melgen served on the host committee of Menendez’s annual fundraising event in New Jersey. Melgen allegedly gave the check to “a close personal friend” of the Senator at the fundraiser, who sent the check by FedEx to a person working to raise money for Majority PAC with a note saying “earmarked for New Jersey.” (That clearly meant Menendez. Majority PAC focused its spending on Democratic Senate races, and he was the only Democratic Senate candidate that year from New Jersey.)

Melgen issued a second check on October 12, 2012, less than a month before the election, prosecutors allege. An email from a fundraiser that accompanied the second check also read “earmarked for New Jersey.”

About six days after Melgen issued the first check, Menendez allegedly advocated on Melgen’s behalf in a Medicare billing dispute with the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. About a month later, Menendez sought a meeting with the Secretary of Health and Human Services to discuss Melgen’s concerns.

“During Menendez’s meeting with the Secretary of HHS, Menendez advocated on behalf of Melgen’s position in his Medicare billing dispute, focusing on Melgen’s specific case and asserting that Melgen was being treated unfairly,” the indictment reads. “The Secretary of HHS disagreed with Menendez’s position.”

After Melgen gave the second $300,000 check, Melgen separately emailed Menendez and a fundraiser for Senate Majority PAC a document asking again for Health and Human Services to intervene on his behalf in the Medicare billing dispute, the indictment claims. The fundraiser for the Senate Majority PAC wrote back by email that he would pass the information on to another senator, identified in the legal documents as Senator 3. “Dear Sal, I’m going to see him on Tuesday. I will give this to him directly. Is that ok?”

Menendez has maintained this innocence, and says he plans to fight the charges.

Correction: This post initially misidentified the senator that a fundraiser for Senate Majority PAC promised to communicate with on Melgen’s behalf.

Read next: New Jersey Senator Faces Corruption Charges

TIME 2016 Election

The Problem With Hillary Clinton’s Email Record Search

A top lawyer says the procedure Clinton used to identify work-related documents on her email server did not meet best practices

A top expert on federal record-keeping policy criticized the method Hillary Clinton’s lawyers used to determine which emails to forward to the State Department for archiving.

Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker, Biddle and Reath and former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, said that Clinton’s team should have manually reviewed every email she sent on a personal email account to find which ones pertained to government business.

Instead, as Clinton revealed Tuesday, her attorneys searched the trove of emails for certain email addresses and subjects. Baron argued that raises the possibility that they missed some emails that should have been saved for the public record.

“There is an outstanding question, and it is a legitimate question, about whether she has now handed over all records pertaining to government business,” Baron says. “For example, in the case of an email that is mostly personal in nature but also contains a sentence or paragraph related to government business, then that email is a government record appropriate for preservation at the State Department, and should not continue to be withheld.”

MORE How to Email Like Hillary Clinton

On December 5, Clinton’s office submitted printed copies of 30,490 work-related emails to the State Department in response to an October records request issued to four former Secretaries of State. The correspondence, which amounted to some 55,000 printed pages, represented less than half of the 62,320 emails sent and received from Clinton’s private email account during her tenure in Foggy Bottom from March 2009 to February 2013. Clinton said during a press conference at the United Nations Wednesday afternoon that the remainder of the emails were personal in nature and thus did not have to be turned over.

As part of a nine-page statement released after the former Secretary’s press conference at the United Nations Wednesday afternoon, Clinton’s office detailed the “multi-step” process her counsel used to determine which emails it was required to submit to State. “Secretary Clinton directed her attorneys to assist by identifying and preserving all emails that could potentially be federal records,” her office said.

First, the lawyers searched all emails with a “.gov” email address in any address field, which yielded 27,500 emails—more than 90% of the total correspondence ultimately provided to State.

Next they searched for the first and last names of more than 100 State Department and other U.S. government officials. “This included all Deputy Secretaries, Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Ambassadors-at-Large, Special Representatives and Envoys, members of the Secretary’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board, and other senior officials to the Secretary, including close aides and staff,” Clinton’s office says. Then they sorted and checked for “misspellings or other idiosyncrasies” to locate documents the search might have missed.

Finally, they performed a search for specific keywords, including “Benghazi” and “Libya.” It is not clear how many such terms were used as filters.

MORE How Hillary Clinton Fared the First Time She Was in the Hot Seat

Clinton’s office said the method was exhaustive. “These additional three steps yielded just over another 2,900 emails, including emails from former Administration officials and long-time friends that may not be deemed by the Department to be federal records,” it said in the statement. “And hundreds of these emails actually had already been forwarded onto the state.gov system and captured in real- time.”

But Baron argues that using keywords as a shortcut raises the possibility that some work-related emails slipped through the cracks. “I would question why lawyers for Secretary Clinton would use keyword searching, a method known to be fraught with limitations, to determine which of the emails with a non-.gov address pertained to government business,” he says. “Any and all State Department activities, not just communications involving the keywords ‘Benghazi’ or ‘Libya’, would potentially make an email a federal record.”

“If the lawyers had more than a few days to conduct a search, given the high stakes involved and the fact that only on the order of 30,000 emails with non .gov addresses remained to be reviewed after clearly .gov federal records were separated out, I would have imagined staff could have simply conducted a manual review of every document,” Baron adds. “Using keywords as a shortcut unfortunately leaves the process open to being second-guessed.”

Read next: Transcript: Everything Hillary Clinton Said on the Email Controversy

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Congress

Republicans in Congress Focus on Possible Gaps in Hillary Clinton Emails

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her PDA upon her departure in a military C-17 plane from Malta bound for Tripoli on Oct. 18, 2011.
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her PDA upon her departure in a military C-17 plane from Malta bound for Tripoli on Oct. 18, 2011.

The Republican investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of private email has begun to focus on whether she appropriately turned over all the emails that she sent or received about government business to the State Department.

“There are gaps of months and months and months,” said South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chief congressional Benghazi investigator, on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, pointing specifically to an October 2011 trip to Libya when she was photographed using her Blackberry. “And if you think to that iconic picture of her on a C-17 flying to Libya, she has sunglasses on and she has her handheld device in her hand, we have no e-mails from that day. In fact, we have no e-mails from that trip.”

Under Obama Administration policy, officials are told to conduct their business principally on official email. If they use private emails accounts, they are instructed to forward emails that are federal records onto their federal accounts. Clinton opted for a different approach by conducting all her business on private accounts and then selecting those that concerned federal business after she left office and sending them to the State Department.

Experts on federal email record-keeping say that how Clinton handled them is a meaty topic.

“There is an outstanding question, and it is a legitimate question, about whether she has now handed over all records pertaining to government business,” says Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle and Reath and former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration. “For example, in the case of an email that is mostly personal in nature but also contains a sentence or paragraph related to government business, then that email is a government record appropriate for preservation at the State Department, and should not continue to be withheld.”

U.S. law gives a broad definition of what constitutes a federal record, including “all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government or because of the informational value of data in them.”

Based on that law, Baron says the timing of when Clinton turned over the emails could matter too.

“In my view Secretary Clinton and the State Department were out of compliance on the day she left office, as federal records created on her private network had not been transferred and preserved in an official recordkeeping system as of that date,” he says. “It appears that she came into compliance only after the State Department requested a return of the government’s records.”

Clinton left the State Department in February 2013 but finished handing over about 55,000 pages of emails in only the past few months. She has since called on the State Department to review those records to determine which are appropriate for release to the public, a process that could take months.

Gowdy, who says he wants “everything” related to Libya and Benghazi, said Sunday that he had “lost confidence” in the State Department to determine what is public record and advocated for “a neutral, detached arbiter” to decide. Some outside experts in federal record-keeping practices agree that an outside review is needed.

“To be fair, as a practical matter, on a day-to-day basis individual employees do make decisions about whether a certain email will be put in a file or whether a certain document is a personal document,” says Doug Cox, a law professor at the City University of New York School. “However the question of the record status of an entire archive of emails sent and received by someone who was the Secretary of State have to be treated differently and especially given the highly questionable, if not illegal, practice of sequestering federal records in a private email system even after leaving the position, I really think there needs to be an independent review of the larger pool of emails, perhaps both by the State Department and the Archivist.”

Even if the Administration doesn’t set up an independent review, Gowdy has done his part keeping the issue in the spotlight, subpoenaing all Clinton emails related to the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi over Democratic objections. Robert Luskin, a lawyer who deflected a congressional subpoena request for George W. Bush political advisor Karl Rove under executive privilege concerns, says that an investigation into the former Secretary’s personal email account would not be “unprecedented.”

“Mrs. Clinton would always be amenable to a subpoena and the separation of powers/executive privilege issues depend upon the substance of what is sought, not who has custody of it,” Luskin told TIME. “Obviously, by using a personal email account, she has complicated her life. In the typical case, lawyers for the administration and Congress would fight it out and she would, more or less, be a bystander. Now, she’s in the ring.”

No matter what happens, the emails will continue to be used as a political cudgel as Clinton weighs a presidential bid. After reports that Gowdy would attend a “Beyond Benghazi” fundraiser this month, Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings said in a statement Monday that the select committee on Benghazi “appears” to have become a “surrogate for the Republican National Committee.” Gowdy quickly canceled the appearance and his office told reporters that he was “unaware” of the organizers’ planned topic.

Republicans continued to keep the pressure on. Michael Mukasey, an Attorney General in the George W. Bush Administration, said Clinton’s latest actions reminded him of the Wile E. Coyote cartoon character. “There are people who think that the laws of physics don’t apply to them,” Mukasey told TIME. “The coyote in the Road Runner cartoons—he keeps running after he goes over the cliff and he doesn’t start to fall until he looks down and sees that he’s over the cliff. It’s the ultimate existential animal.”

Nine sitting Cabinet Secretaries and the Attorney General told TIME through spokespersons last week that they use a government email account for official business. Other Cabinet officials did not comment, but Vice President Joe Biden’s office did. “The Vice President’s emails, like the President’s, are subject to the Presidential Records Act,” says a Biden spokesperson. “In accordance with the Act, the Vice President’s e-mails are preserved and maintained.”

With additional reporting by Zeke Miller/Washington

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Runs Conservative Gatekeeper Gauntlet

Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Jeb Bush made headlines Friday when he used wit to parry the boos of college-age conservatives at a conference outside Washington, D.C. “For those who made an ‘ooo’ sound — is that what it was? — I’m marking you down as neutral and I want to be your second choice,” he told the crowd, in what sounded like a prepared line.

But the moment may not have been the most consequential conservative test he passed last week. Just a day earlier, Bush addressed and largely won over a crowd of strict fiscal conservative donors off camera and thousands of miles away at a gathering of wealthy donors at a Club for Growth confab in Palm Beach, Fla.

David McIntosh, the group’s president, who interviewed Bush on stage, said his members, who tend to be wealthy fighters for strict fiscal conservatism, had been wary before Bush appeared, wondering who they would meet, “the old Governor or a new Bush,” a reference the raw feelings many conservatives still have against Jeb’s father and brother, who both enraged conservatives during their administrations.

But Bush made a forceful case for himself, McIntosh said. “I got to be governor of this state — this purple state, this wacky, wonderful state — for eight years,” Bush told the group, according to an account from the Washington Post. “I ran as a conservative, I said what I was going to do, and I had a chance to do it. And trust me, I did.” By the time it was over, McIntosh was all praise. “Bush impressed people,” he said.

That seal of approval could prove huge dividends as the establishment frontrunner works to avoid a movement backlash to his nascent presidential effort. The man who once said Republicans should “lose the primary to win the general election” is nonetheless aiming to establish his credentials in a way that minimizes the ideological protest against his candidacy from the right. But the fight is far from over. Other conservative activists have been far more skeptical. Grover Norquist, who runs another fiscal conservative group, Americans for Tax Reform, has been critical of Jeb Bush for refusing to sign his pledge, during his gubernatorial campaigns and now, to oppose all increases in taxes.

“My concern is that he has not made a commitment to the American people that he will not raise taxes when all the other candidates have done so,” Norquist said at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. “I think Jeb will take the pledge at the end of the day because both his father and his brother said ‘I don’t know’ and then when they realized what the pledge was and what it actually meant and that it was a pledge to the American people and not to me or Americans for Tax Reform, and that they had no intention of raising taxes, and that everyone else was doing it, they said yes, absolutely.”

Bush has so far refused to budge, and on Saturday his spokesman dismissed Norquist’s organization as just another “lobbying group.” “If Governor Bush decides to move forward, he will not sign any pledges circulated by lobbying groups,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, told ABC News. President George H.W. Bush famously signed Norquist’s pledge and then broke it by supporting a tax increase as part of the 1990 budget, a move that hurt his reelection effort in 1992. President George W. Bush signed and honored the pledge as president, and his White House worked closely with Norquist to rally support for tax cuts in his first term.

One reason for Jeb Bush’s reluctance may be his desire to strike a bargain to reform entitlements if he became president. In 2012, he said in a congressional hearing that he would accept a theoretical deal to raise $1 of tax revenue for every $10 in spending cuts, a position that had been rejected by that year’s Republican presidential contenders, in large part because of Norquist’s pledge.

Like Norquist’s group, the Club For Growth also has a reputation for taking a hard line against any candidate who either raises taxes or leaves the door open to tax increases. But so far this cycle, there are no signs that the Club will target Bush. In 2008, the Club for Growth played an aggressive role in opposing Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, attacking him for some tax increases he pushed as governor of Arkansas. In 2012, the group released research papers on the candidates, but did not spend money or offer endorsements in the primary. This year, the group could be more agressive. “There is no decision on an endorsement,” McIntosh said.

But Bush is not seeking an endorsement as much as a lack of opposition. If the Club simply concludes that Bush can be seen in the same category as other Club for Growth favorites, including Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Rand Paul, that would be victory enough for his presidential effort.

Additional reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME 2016 Election

Forget the Past America, Donald Trump Could Run For President

Donald Trump is huge. Don’t anyone forget that.

Also, he is really serious about running for president. Just look at what he told the Washington Post. “I am more serious about this than I’ve ever been before,” he said. That sounds pretty serious, unless you have a memory of what he has said before.

Left out of the Post story was a crucial piece of context. He used those exact same words—more serious than ever before—four years ago, the last time he didn’t run for president. When TIME interviewed him in the Spring of 2011, he said he was delaying the renewal of his television show, The Celebrity Apprentice, to explore the possibility of a political campaign. In the end, he used the publicity raised by not running for President as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with NBC. Now he is saying the same thing. Say what you will about Trump, but the man knows how to negotiate.

The echoes of past feints haunt Trump’s latest tease like a poker tell. Now he talks about hiring staff in South Carolina. In 2011, he was sending staff to Iowa and New Hampshire, offering himself as a speaker at rubber-chicken dinners. If he runs in 2016 in a crowded Republican field, he says this time he will have a clear message: “People around the world are laughing at us,” he told the Post. “Look at China, they’re killing us, taking our jobs. We have weakness in the Middle East and with ISIS. We have incompetent people running the country and I’m tired of it.”

That sounds familiar too. Here’s what he told TIME about four years ago: “Nobody can do the job that I can do. . . I can make this country great again. This country is not great. This country is a laughingstock for the rest of the world.” And here’s what he said in 1987, the first time he did not run for President, in a full-page newspaper ad attacking the administration of Ronald Reagan, the very man lionized by attendees at the Conservative Political Actions Conference where Trump will speak later this week: “The world is laughing at America’s politicians.”

So it goes. There was one other time Trump did not run for President, back in the runup to 2000, when he teased the Reform Party into talking about making him their nominee. His platform back then was the sort of stuff that would probably disqualify any Republican not named Trump from even being talked about as GOP nominee. It included federal single-payer health care—yes, the sort of socialism that even Barack Obama did not embrace—and a one time net worth tax of 14.25% on all Americans worth more than $10 million. (Primary residences, like those in upscale Trump properties, were exempted, of course, effectively turning Trump’s empire into an enormous tax shelter.) For the record, Trump says he has changed his mind on both ideas. He has also recently abandoned his pro-choice views on abortion.

But Trump knows something about the modern media that allows him to skate by all this: We scribblers have lousy memories, and a huge hunger for a good story. And boy, oh boy, is Trump a good story. For instance, just two days ago, he tweeted: “The Oscars were a great night for Mexico & why not—they are ripping off the US more than almost any other nation.” Hilarious! I am sure that will play well in Nevada, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico, where Republicans are set on improving their dismal 2012 margins with Hispanics. He is also lobbying to be the next Oscar host, because why not. Trump is huge.

To understand the man, and his brilliant business, you have to understand his history. And you can’t write about his presidential temptations without mentioning the past. Nothing has changed in 30 years. He really is a marvelous salesman. As I wrote in 2011:

Fretting over the niggling details of reality didn’t get him where he is today — worth $2.7 billion, according to Forbes, with a hit reality show, a men’s clothing line at Macy’s, a string of best-selling business books, swanky country clubs, luxury hotels, Trump tea, Trump chocolate, Trump bottled water, mail-order Trump steaks, the Miss Universe pageant and foreign financiers who solicit the use of his name for new condos in Dubai or on the Black Sea or wherever money is blowing up the skyline with brazen luxury.

Unlike most developers who scraped Manhattan dirt, Trump didn’t make his fortune simply by building things with glass and steel. He sold story lines of living large: Trump, with the best, the tallest, the most, the biggest and the brightest. A decade before reality television, he offered himself as performance art, what Advertising Age calls the “human logo.” “The show is ‘Trump,'” he told Playboy in a 1990 interview. “And it is sold-out performances everywhere.” Without the “Trump,” after all, those steaks are just meat in the mail, and he is just another rich guy who thinks he can buy his way into the White House.

That’s who Trump is. And thanks to a political press that loves to a Trump tale and lacks the column inches for context, that is who he will continue to be. The NBC suits must be feeling faint. He’s as serious as he has ever been about leaving The Celebrity Apprentice. America is a laughingstock. He is huge. He might even go through with becoming a candidate this time. The show is still sold out everywhere.

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