Because of his last name, Jeb Bush represent the Republican Party's past. But he clearly wants to be seen as its future. Bush needs to look like a serious person, and to do that, he needs to be praised by centrists and bashed by the unserious fringe. This week, Bush has succeeded.
In an interview Monday with Bloomberg View, the former Florida governor suggested neither his father nor Ronald Reagan could get elected today, because the Republican Party has shifted so far rightward. He called for a set of policies that appeal to the libertarian elite -- being nicer to immigrants, "spending restraint." Like so many before him, he called for a change in tone. Bush's comments set off an "uproar" on conservative blogs, Politico's Tim Mak noticed. He was immediately condemned as a RINO (Republican In Name Only) spewing "a steaming pile of nonsense."
And, naturally, he was also praised for being a clear-eyed principled truth-teller. He was praised by Dan Gelber, who was Democratic Leader in the Florida House when Bush was governor, as an ideas man. "We were prepared to do battle with Jeb every day but it was over ideas,'' Gelber told National Journal's Beth Reinhard, who described his tone as almost wistful."The difference with these guys today is that it's about electoral politics, so anything the other guy says is bad.'' The Miami Herald's Myriam Marquez was very impressed:
'Jeb Unshackled,' one headline noted. Unshackled, yes, but also consistent with his principles and true to his public record. On the stratospheric federal budget deficits, silly no-tax pledges, gay rights and immigration, Bush laid out his thoughts with respect to those who disagree and the type of refreshing honesty that escapes today’s political pander campaigns.
Centrist fetishist John Avlon, author of the book Wingnuts and who describes himself has covering the political "freak beat," writes at CNN "Jeb vs. Grover: Battle for GOP's soul." Any guesses to which side is the good witch? Avlon writes, "This is what happens when politics starts looking like a cult: Jeb Bush gets attacked for being a traitor to the conservative cause." Bush represents a GOP "committed to reaching out beyond its base with a focus on governing responsibly in the national interest." Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, represents a party, "driven by ideological activists and special interests, elevating pledges over principled but pragmatic solutions." Avlon concludes:
The choice between Bush's and Norquist's vision of the Republican Party is ultimately no contest at all. It's the difference between responsible governance and agitated activism, a growing party or a shrinking one. And of course in the end the only pledge that really matters is the Pledge of Allegiance.
Comments like Bush's, according to Politico's Maggie Haberman, shows that Republicans don't fear the Mitt Romney campaign the way they did Bush's brother's in 2004. He's not of the Republican establishment, and he's not a hard-liner. "It doesn’t make him scary within his own party, but the good news is it doesn’t make him scary across the 50-yard line with Democrats either," Republican strategist Alex Castellanos told Haberman. But isn't it more likely that Republican leaders aren't scared of Romney because they don't think he has much appeal beyond the 50-yard-line? As in, in the case of Bush, they're betting Romney's going to lose?