I Still Say Jeb Bush Was Right

It’s perhaps predictable that I, the guy who started Blogs For Bush back in 2003, would be defending Jeb Bush over comments he made this week suggesting that Ronald Reagan or George H. W. Bush would have hard time earning the Republican Party nomination today. Of course the thing is, I’ve been saying this for a while now, well before Jeb Bush said it this week.

So, yesterday I inserted my opinion into Cluster’s blog post on the subject, because I think it’s an issue worth intra-party discussion and reflection. Today, I have to respond to another piece on the subject, my friend S.E. Cupp’s commentary in the New York Daily News.

S.E. Cupp, like many other conservatives, took offense to Jeb’s comments, suggesting that Jeb switch parties if he really thinks Reagan isn’t conservative enough to get our party’s nomination:

Some of Reagan’s strongest opponents were, in fact, establishment Republicans — guys like Jeb Bush’s dad, who called Reagan’s fiscal policies “voodoo economics.”

If Reagan were alive today, he would probably find that some things have changed. But the party he loved and the causes he cared so deeply about are still here, still very much a part of the conservative movement.

She laid out a conservative case for Reagan. Here’s a few points:

  • “He famously campaigned against state-sponsored welfare programs…”
  •  “Reagan so despised the caprice and power of organized labor that he told an entire fleet of air-traffic controllers to get the hell back to work.”
  • “Reagan was so supportive of capital punishment he could make a Texan blush today..”

There are more examples… all of which have the same problem: these examples essentially all come from during his presidency or his campaign. But, as a hypothetical candidate in 2012 for the Republican Party nomination, we can’t look at Reagan, the two-term president, can we? It just doesn’t make sense, constitutionally or otherwise.

So, hypothetically speaking, what would have happened to Ronald Reagan in the 2012 primary, with the record of Ronald Reagan prior to January 20, 1981?

Based on what we saw in this year’s primary, with every single candidate being dubbed a RINO by supporters of opposing candidates, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Reagan being a former Democrat would have made many in the Tea Party skeptical, if not outright distrusting.

And then there’s his record as Governor of California. Though this occurred before I was born, it doesn’t take much Googling to find that there was and still is plenty of debate over just how conservative he was as governor.

But Reagan, like his Republican successors in presidential campaigns, campaigned on a conservative platform. Yes, as S.E. mentioned, today’s party did nominate McCain in 2008, and at CPAC 2008, when Mitt Romney ended his campaign paving the way for McCain to lock up the nomination, conservative activists all around me were furious. Those same activists were furious that the “conservative alternative to McCain” in 2008 would be their party’s nominee in 2012. Indeed, several of my conservative blogger/activist friends and counterparts put a lot of effort into a NotMittRomney campaign.

I’m not going to rehash the points I made the other day in Cluster’s blog post, but I am going say that it’s not a fair attack Jeb by using Reagan’s record as president. And yes, I am sure there are plenty of conservative cases for Reagan’s gubernatorial record, but there are also conservative cases against it, which most certainly would have been made… and in the internet age, Reagan’s path to the Republican nomination would have looked very different. There is no reason to believe that the Tea Party, or one of its many subgroups, wouldn’t have rallied against him for one reason or another, regardless of the conservative values and positions he ran on in 1980.

It’s not the party that’s the problem though, it’s the base… the voters who vote in primaries… we’ve grown less will to accept compromise. I’m not saying we trade in conservative values to achieve electoral victories, but we should be willing to take smaller steps in the right direction when bigger steps are less likely to be achieved.

For example: Senator Scott Brown’s 2010 special election victory came in part to Tea Party support from around the country. This year, as he tries for a full term, many of those supporters have turned away, because Brown has not been conservative enough. Apparently, to some conservative activists, a small step to the right is no longer worth investing in, even if it means a large step to the left is the alternative.

Activists on both sides of the aisle are becoming less tolerant of moderates in their party. There’s no use in denying it. When allegiances are made in primary it’s easier to brand the candidate you don’t support as RINO, than give them credit for a compromise that overal achieved a conservative end.

And Ronald Reagan would not have been immune to it.