June 13, 2012
Jeb Bush’s Candor
By FRANK BRUNI
Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida
As you no doubt read or heard, Jeb Bush made news earlier this week, saying that neither his father nor Ronald Reagan would have found a comfortable place in the Republican Party of today. This is hardly a revelatory observation. But it’s an essential one, presented in this case by a member of one of the party’s ruling clans (at least once upon a time), as my colleague Jim Rutenberg noted in his terrific news article about Bush’s comments.
Jim and I were among some two dozen journalists at a Monday morning breakfast where Bush took questions and said more or less that Republicans were too intransigent on tax increases and too harsh on immigration; I wrote a column for Tuesday’s newspaper that pivoted off of something else he said, about a country in decline. And after the breakfast, several of the journalists in attendance issued the same lament: if only he had run for the Republican nomination! It would have been so refreshing! There would have been a voice of moderation in the mix!
But would there have been? The problem with that lament is that it overlooks a corollary (or anagram) of the very point Bush was making: given the current dynamics of the Republican Party in general and its primary process in particular, he would probably have been compelled to sing a different tune on the campaign trail than he did at the breakfast, or he would have had to content himself with the excellent possibility of an early exit from the race. There’s a reason none of the actual candidates talked quite the way he did at Monday’s breakfast. They sensed—correctly, one has to assume—that it simply wouldn’t fly.
In fact Bush’s comments at the breakfast were for me the final confirmation that he wasn’t in the vice presidential hunt. He himself had previously said as much, and it also didn’t make sense that a man who had reportedly wanted to avoid the invasiveness and turmoil of a presidential campaign would then opt for an approximation of precisely that in the Number 2 instead of the Number 1 slot. If you’re going to get slapped around, you might as well do it for the big enchilada, not the little tortilla chip.
Jeb Bush said what he did at the breakfast because he was free to. Because he wasn’t running for anything, and hadn’t in a while. Because he was liberated. And as he noted at the breakfast, office holders in these bitterly partisan times are more hostage than at many moments in the past to the orthodoxies of their respective parties.
Right now I’d say Republicans are more hostage than Democrats, and perhaps the most vivid illustration of that is the one most often cited: that seminal debate in Ames, Iowa, just before the state’s straw poll, when the then-populous field of contenders were asked if they’d accept a budget deal with $10 of spending reductions for every $1 of tax increases. All of them said no. Even Jon Huntsman, the supposed moderate in the field.
I’m familiar with arguments for holding the line firmly against tax increases: that the only way to cure government of excessive spending is to limit severely its supply of money and take the option of extra revenue off the table; that the potential of tax increases on the wealthy to lessen our deficits pales beside the impact of thorough reform of Medicare and Social Security.
But the hypothetical deal presented to these candidates guaranteed spending cuts. Moreover, it was a metaphor for across-the-aisle give-and-take: if one party bled this much, would you bleed a little? And then, of course, there’s the fact that Jeb Bush’s older brother cut taxes and still managed to spend lavishly. That the government was taking in less didn’t stop its fiscally wanton ways.
That’s all been hashed over before. My question here is whether, if Jeb Bush had been on that stage in Ames that night, he would have answered as Huntsman and all the others did or would have said what he subsequently has—that such a hypothetical deal is an attractive one?
The Republican primaries are such a paradoxical process, because part of what made Mitt Romney the favorite from the start were his previous glimmers of moderation and the promise of more such glimmers come general-election time. Many of the party’s most important power brokers and donors understand full well that to take the White House, conservatism like Rick Santorum’s is not a great bet. But to get through the primaries, Romney had to tack far enough to the right that his credentials as a moderate were seriously undermined.
After that breakfast, I wondered how much Romney, if he hadn’t been a presidential candidate in 2008 and wasn’t a presidential candidate again now, might sound like Jeb Bush. I wondered if journalists would express regret that someone like Romney wasn’t contending. Because you enter the ring and everything changes. Perhaps now more than ever.
- Krauthammer on Jeb Bush: “His Problem Was Equating His Father to Ronald Reagan” (Video) (thegatewaypundit.com)
- Frank Bruni’s Blog: Jeb Bush’s Candor (bruni.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Jeb Bush: Willingness to compromise in DC is gone (miamiherald.com)
- Jeb Bush: Reagan ‘would have a hard time’ in today’s GOP (thehill.com)
- Jeb Bush praises Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Col.), attacks Republicans (twitchy.com)
- Jeb Bush: Loving same sex parents example for others…… (unbiasedtruth.net)
- I Still Say Jeb Bush Was Right (blogs4victory.wordpress.com)
- Scarborough Blasts Bloggers & Jeb Bush Opponents: “Stay in Your Mother’s Basement… Type On Your Dingy Laptop” (Video) (thegatewaypundit.com)
- Don’t Quit Now, Jeb! (thedailybeast.com)
- Which Party Does Jeb Bush Belong To? (alan.com)