Not Jeb Bush’s GOP
Does the Republican hero and former Florida governor have a place in his own party?
This is where the tension over leadership attributes becomes acute. Where Jeb Bush sees a signature act of political leadership and bravery, conservative Republicans see a great apostasy. This isn't just some passing historical moment. It is a signature betrayal that Republicans point to again and again. Bush is doing something akin to a Red Sox fan cheering for Babe Ruth's trade to the Yankees. Grover Norquist, the Republican anti-tax advocate, dismissed Bush. "He’s just agreed to walk down the same alley his dad did with the same gang," he told Talking Points Memo. "And he thinks he’s smart. You walk down that alley, you don’t come out."
The Bush 1990 budget deal makes for an interesting historical test. Mitt Romney's campaign won't say whether he has an opinion on this historical turning point. During the primary, Romney said he would not vote for a hypothetical budget deal that included $1 in tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts. (Bush and Daniels said they would.) That would suggest Romney is in the Grover Norquist camp. (He has signed Norquist's pledge.)
So Bush would appear to be at odds with his nominee's worldview, except that Romney has also used support for the Bush budget deal as a signature test of leadership. When attacking Newt Gingrich during the primary, he singled out Gingrich's opposition to the Bush budget deal as a key Gingrich failure. Former Bush Chief of Staff John Sununu held a press conference to highlight Gingrich's lack of support. George H.W. Bush also cited Gingrich's opposition to the deal in his support of Romney. But according to the Norquist pledge that Romney has signed, Gingrich's opposition should be seen as an act of anti-tax heroism.
In the hourlong discussion of leadership attributes, Mitt Romney was not among the ready examples Bush cited when talking about effective leadership. For a period of Romney's career, the former Massachusetts governor presented himself as just the kind of pragmatic, results-oriented politician that Bush describes. His signature accomplishment as governor, health care reform, is exactly what Bush was describing: a hard-fought deal that achieved something even though it meant working with Democrats. "He was incredibly impressive, with his intellect, his ability," MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber, a Democrat who worked with Romney on the plan, told Karen Tumulty. "If there is anything that qualifies him to be president of the United States, it is his leadership on this issue."
When Bush did talk about Romney at length, it was about Romney’s tough stance against illegal immigration. "Governor Romney has used [his immigration position] to connect with a group of voters who were quite angry, and it was effective," says Bush, "but now he's in somewhat of a box." While Bush said the angry portion of the GOP electorate that’s scared about porous borders has a legitimate point, Romney’s task now is to appeal to different voters, namely Hispanics. Bush’s prescription for political recovery is for Romney to pitch a broader economic message to Hispanic voters.
Bush, who supported an in-state tuition plan similar to the one Mitt Romney attacked Rick Perry for promoting, says that he feels "out of step with my party" on immigration. He also has a larger complaint about the purity tests that rule politics today. "I would hope that we don't just all have to march [in lock step.] If I'm a conservative and someone else is a liberal, we're sent a little book that says you must not veer. You have to embrace the orthodoxy of the moment." Bush is not marching in line. The question is whether he’s off on his own or whether the GOP nominee will take the party in a similar direction.