The PJ Tatler

Jeb Bush: Reagan Would Have a Hard Time in Today's 'Dysfunctional' GOP

Former FL Gov. Jeb Bush says Ronald Reagan would have a hard time winning the Republican nomination today, because the party has veered too far to the right, and is “dysfunctional.”

“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,” Bush said, adding that he views the hyper-partisan moment as “temporary.”

“Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time – they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support,” he said. Reagan “would be criticized for doing the things that he did.”

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. During this same period, the Democrats nominated a sitting vice president once seen as a centrist but who had flown hard left on environmental causes, a left of center senator from blue Massachusetts, a left of center senator from blue Illinois, will soon re-nominate him after a left of center term as president. The Democrats made all of these nominations after two successful terms by centrist, DLC alum Bill Clinton, effectively repudiating centrism.

Of the two major parties, the evidence suggests that it is the Democrats who have radicalized to a greater degree than the Republicans have. The Republicans have responded to this Democratic leftward lurch by emphasizing economic issues, chiefly excess government spending and corresponding stress on the private sector in the form of high unemployment. If the Republicans had ignored these issues, it would have failed to stand on its core principles, and would have spawned a third party as fiscal hawks in the Tea Party and the GOP bolted to form a more fiscally serious party.

The fact is, Jeb Bush’s read of the past 30 years or so and of the current state of play between the two parties and their trajectories, is terrible. Jeb Bush’s analysis is incomplete at best if he sees the GOP as more sharply partisan now than it was under Reagan. Reagan spared nothing when criticizing Democrat and socialist policies. He went over the heads of the Democrats and the media to articulate his goals, and used the presidency effectively to achieve them. He occasionally compromised, and was sometimes criticized by many Republicans when he did, but more often than not his compromises brought the Democrats to the right, not the Republicans to the left. Jeb Bush apparently forgets that after Reagan signed one of his arms deals with the Soviets, many in the GOP base accused him of lapsing and becoming a Democrat again; he was criticized when his policies warranted it by his own party. Bush also apparently forgets this his own father coined the phrase “voodoo economics” to describe Reagan’s economic policies. That was before George H. W. Bush accepted the vice presidential nod from Reagan, such is the nature of politics. Bush 41 did find the common ground that Jeb Bush seems to hope current Republicans will find with Democrats, in the form a huge tax increase that sparked a recession and cost him his presidency. Bush 41’s finding common ground with Democrats paved the way for eight years of Bill Clinton. Is that the sort of functional party that Jeb Bush wants? — one that compromises on bad policy and hurts the country and itself at the same time? One that just becomes Democrat-lite rather than pulling Democrats over to support conservative ideas? One that creates “Obamicans” rather than Reagan Democrats? That isn’t how Bush governed Florida, and it’s among the reasons he left office as a very popular man.

There obviously is room for Ronald Reagan and the Bushes in today’s GOP. Romney is obviously to the left, at least if you go by past policy, of Reagan and Bush 43. If Jeb Bush cannot see that, or see how the media will play up his comments to hurt the Republicans, then that’s on him, not the party. He needs some brush-up media training to remind him that whatever he says about Democrats, if he reserves his sharpest criticisms for Republicans, that will feed the headlines.