Not Your Daddy's Republican Party
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush came in for an avalanche of criticism from conservatives for saying that Ronald Reagan and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, "would have a hard time" getting nominated in today's Republican Party.
Speaking to reporters and editors at Bloomberg News on Monday, Bush said:
"Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican party — and I don’t — as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,"
"Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time – they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan suport," he said. Reagan "would be criticized for doing the things that he did."
For his trouble, Jeb has now been branded a RINO, having angered that perpetually outraged faction of right wingers whose self-appointed duties include keeping party members on the straight and narrow -- and unthinking path -- of "true" conservatism. This, despite the fact that many of these same Guardians of the Sacred Chalice of Orthodoxy were begging Jeb to run for president just a few months ago and save them from the scourge of Romneyism.
Why criticism of one's own party equates with the notion of disloyalty or ideological impurity is a mystery. The GOP is not the politburo, but the conservative NKVD in the blogosphere acts as if it is. Evidently, echoing the criticism of some liberals is reason enough to throw the heretic into the Lubyanka and toss away the key.
Nevertheless, the reaction among some conservatives to Governor Bush's statements was puzzling. Bryan Preston of the PJ Tatler wrote:
The GOP has nominated a Bush in 2000, re-nominated him in 2004, and then nominated centrist John McCain in 2008 and centrist Mitt Romney in 2012.
[T]he GOP is so extreme our last two nominees have been John McCain and Mitt Romney . ... I am so sick and tired of this garbage.
Jebadummy Bush says that his father, as well as Reagan, would have a tough time getting nominated today because the republican party is too ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE. He says this while Romney swept through the primaries like a hot knife through butter.
No, Jeb Bush was not saying that today's GOP is too "extreme" or "ultra-conservative." Reading what isn't there will always get a blogger in trouble. In this case, the bloggers quoted above, as well as many others, stepped in it.
Bush did not say Reagan was more moderate than today's candidates. He said that the Gipper's record of cooperating with Democrats in Sacramento would be a strike against him for many modern Republicans. And imagine the hue and cry that would have gone up on the right if Reagan had to deal with today's Republicans when, as president, he raised taxes and didn't shrink the government as he promised, not to mention working closely with Democrats to pass his tax-cut package, budget package, and defense buildup.
Bush was not talking about conservatism, he was talking about responsible governance -- the recognition that in a nation of 300 million people from every background, every ethnicity, every race and creed, there are going to be divergent opinions -- and not all of them should be automatically discarded simply because they don't jibe with the orthodox opinions of your political party. What Bush refers to as "accommodation" by Reagan and Bush #41 was actually a recognition by those two leaders that government is a multi-faceted enterprise with many moving parts and that presidents -- good presidents -- recognize that the give and take between majority and minority factions leads to solutions that address national problems and improve people's lives.
Bush is at pains to point out that Barack Obama doesn't understand this either:
"His first year could have been a year of enormous accomplishment had he focused on things where there was more common ground," he said, arguing that Obama had made a "purely political calculation" to run a sharply partisan administration.
The Democrats are arguing the Republicans are the reason Obama had to run a sharply partisan administration, but that's nonsense. Obama didn't even try to entice Republicans to support health insurance reform, financial services reforms, or any other major initiative of his first term. His imprudence guaranteed solid GOP opposition to his agenda.
There were some Republicans who were against all reforms in these areas, but there were also a sizable number of GOP legislators who might have jumped on board incremental reforms and not these gargantuan "comprehensive" bills that the glory-hunting Obama wanted to pass. Alas, lest we forget, "I won," said Obama to Republicans shortly after he took office. Because of that arrogance, an opportunity was lost.
Accommodation and negotiation do not denote weakness or a loss of principle. There is nothing in the conservative handbook that says promoting cooperation with the opposition is reason to drum the apostate out of the legion. In fact, it could be argued that it is decidedly unconservative to be so unthinking as to oppose for the sake of opposition alone.
Rich Lowry points out that Republicans have actually been cooperative with the president on some important pieces of legislation, including the payroll tax extension. He believes that there is a "myth" of GOP irrationality and that the conflict between parties is one of "vision." It's not "irrational" to oppose the monstrosity that is Obamacare. But what about holding federal judges hostage to partisan politics? President Obama has nominated 23 federal judges. Only three have been confirmed. The same holds true for dozens of other administration appointees who won't even get an up or down vote in the Senate. This, indeed, is irrational when one considers that no matter what you think about a president, he deserves the right to appoint his own administration.
Jeb Bush is right: Ronald Reagan would have come under heavy criticism from the right for much of what he did during his presidency. But it's irrelevant because that was then and this is now. Not only has the party changed, but the times in which we live offer different challenges demanding different solutions. Bush is criticizing members of his party whose excessive focus on ideology and partisan politics -- not their conservative principles -- has made it impossible to address the deadly serious crisis we face in any meaningful way. Those who demand all or nothing will always get nothing. And that's no way to run a government.
The Republican Party has changed since Ronald Reagan was president. And thank the lord for that. Anything stagnant will ossify and eventually wither and blow away. There is a lot of energy in Republican ranks these days. It is, for all intents and purposes, a different party than it was even four years ago. It is more conservative, more confident, and probably less tolerant of dissent within its ranks. It surely is not your daddy's Republican Party. But neither is it your big brother's.
It will be interesting to see what happens if Romney is elected president.