Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jeb Bush

Is Paul Ryan the Leader of the Conservative Movement?

When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

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When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

As much influence as the Tea Party-affiliated members of Congress have been able to exert over the legislative affairs of the country, the Republican Party is still clearly at a crossroads. Mitt Romney’s nomination was the result of many factors, but it was not because he leads a movement within the party. No strand of the conservative movement, therefore, was elevated above the others by Romney’s successful bid for the GOP presidential nomination. That is one reason there was so much interest, especially on the right, in Romney’s choice of vice presidential nominee.

What would a President Romney’s agenda look like? Many suggested that question would be answered as much by his running mate as anything else. But above all, Romney had the ability to elevate a conservative (or moderate Republican) and that person’s followers within the party. There were plenty of strong choices for the veep position because there are so many talented rising stars in the party: Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez, Kelly Ayotte, and others. But the one that stood out the most to Romney was also the one with arguably the broadest coalition within the party and among the conservative movement: Paul Ryan.

When considering potential presidential nominees for 2016 if Obama wins reelection, we can probably take Jim DeMint’s name off the list, as he is unlikely to run. Jeb Bush is a wild card: many will say he missed his window, or that he won’t run against Rubio, but he would also attract immediate support from across the party spectrum. It makes sense for Rand Paul to run, I suppose, if only to build his base and his following the way his father did. But I doubt he’d be much of a threat to the others. Jindal is immensely qualified, but it’s unclear if he can thrive on the national stage.

Ideologically, however, both Ryan and Rubio are in good standing with each of the party’s wings. On budgetary issues, most of the young conservatives are on the same page. But judging from the response to the various speeches at the Republican National Convention, the party remains closer on foreign policy to both John McCain’s hawkishness and Condoleezza Rice’s muscular realism than to Rand Paul’s retrenchment. (I don’t think the term “isolationist” is accurate, especially since isolationism used to mean opposition to free trade.) And on social issues, the party remains strongly pro-life.

Would that last one exclude Christie? He is pro-life, but not especially fond of legislating his preferences on social issues. There is probably one more category of conservative worth mentioning: the intellectual wing of the movement. This wing is often more moderate, and therefore at odds with the grassroots base, but still has a high degree of influence within the party and may be best positioned to advance ideas, if not candidacies.

Many of the rising stars in the party would attract their support, and that certainly includes Paul Ryan. And now there is one more advantage for Ryan: even if Romney loses, Ryan will be the lone member of this presidential ticket still vying for prominence within the Republican Party. It does not quite make him a standard bearer, but I think it’s close enough. He has been touring the country making the case for conservatism, and he would garner support from each faction of the movement. So would others, surely. But Ryan may wake up on Wednesday the vice president-elect of the United States, and that means something.

If Romney wins tomorrow, Ryan is undoubtedly first in line, at least for the time being, to inherit the party. But even if he loses tomorrow he is poised to make that claim anyway. That means the conservative grassroots would be elevated to prominence right along with him, solidifying this tectonic shift.

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The George W. Bush Alibi Doesn’t Cut It

The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.

But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”

He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.

The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.

But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”

He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.

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The Extravagant Hypocrisy of Charlie Crist

Let me pose a hypothetical. A young, charismatic Hispanic advocating for more humane immigration policies and against draconian enforcement defeats an aging, white politician in an election. The older politician then leaves his party to join the party led by the politician who took unprecedented action to squash immigration reform. What would you call the older politician?

You would call him Charlie Crist, right? After all, that is exactly what happened in Florida, and over the weekend Crist bolted the party advocating for more immigration with a growing cadre of Latino political stars for the party of the status quo. Crist endorsed President Obama, perhaps unsurprisingly but not without a dose of irony and a mammoth lack of self-awareness. There is a lot to love in his Sunday op-ed announcing his endorsement of the president, but this is my favorite part:

But an element of [the Republican] party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.

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Let me pose a hypothetical. A young, charismatic Hispanic advocating for more humane immigration policies and against draconian enforcement defeats an aging, white politician in an election. The older politician then leaves his party to join the party led by the politician who took unprecedented action to squash immigration reform. What would you call the older politician?

You would call him Charlie Crist, right? After all, that is exactly what happened in Florida, and over the weekend Crist bolted the party advocating for more immigration with a growing cadre of Latino political stars for the party of the status quo. Crist endorsed President Obama, perhaps unsurprisingly but not without a dose of irony and a mammoth lack of self-awareness. There is a lot to love in his Sunday op-ed announcing his endorsement of the president, but this is my favorite part:

But an element of [the Republican] party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.

The senator who defeated Crist, you’ll remember, was Marco Rubio. Rubio, no doubt, can’t help but laugh at the thought of Crist lecturing him–the son of Cuban immigrants–on what is good for Latino immigrants. But it’s even more risible as Rubio’s defeat of Crist enabled the Republican Party to raise the issue of liberalizing immigration policies. Rubio put together his own version of the Dream Act, which was expected to gain such bipartisan popularity that the Democratic Party moved to destroy any chance of it coming up for a vote. So President Obama released an executive order directing authorities not to enforce immigration law against certain immigrants rather than pass legislation to fix the problem.

Additionally, Crist mentions education, but Crist’s predecessor, Jeb Bush, enjoys a legacy that includes a reformed state education policy with impressive results. In other words, Crist hails from the state at the center of an immigrant-friendly, pro-education reform movement led by the party he is walking away from.

Both Bush and Rubio have earned extraordinary respect from the national party and the conservative movement. If Crist wants to take a stand on behalf of a status quo that is failing students in order to enrich union bosses and preventing bipartisan immigration reform, he is free to do so. But it should be acknowledged that this is exactly what he is doing.

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Yes, Conservatives Criticized Reagan Too

What do you call a forum during which two people holding different opinions argue their respective cases in an attempt to win over the audience? Conservatives rightly call this a “debate.” But according to Dana Milbank, liberals have another term: “show trial.” That’s what Milbank called a debate this week between Norm Ornstein and Steve Hayward hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The topic was whether Ornstein was correct about the modern Republican Party’s supposed historic intransigence.

It’s telling that the free flow of ideas makes liberals so uncomfortable. That is one aspect of the larger point Milbank was making, which is that in his opinion Jeb Bush’s recent comments on the difficulty his father and Ronald Reagan would have in today’s GOP were spot-on. But what did Jeb Bush say that Milbank found so damning? Here it is, from his column:

“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 . . . as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” Bush said Monday in a meeting at Bloomberg headquarters in New York, according to the online publication Buzzfeed.

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

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What do you call a forum during which two people holding different opinions argue their respective cases in an attempt to win over the audience? Conservatives rightly call this a “debate.” But according to Dana Milbank, liberals have another term: “show trial.” That’s what Milbank called a debate this week between Norm Ornstein and Steve Hayward hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The topic was whether Ornstein was correct about the modern Republican Party’s supposed historic intransigence.

It’s telling that the free flow of ideas makes liberals so uncomfortable. That is one aspect of the larger point Milbank was making, which is that in his opinion Jeb Bush’s recent comments on the difficulty his father and Ronald Reagan would have in today’s GOP were spot-on. But what did Jeb Bush say that Milbank found so damning? Here it is, from his column:

“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 . . . as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” Bush said Monday in a meeting at Bloomberg headquarters in New York, according to the online publication Buzzfeed.

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

Chilling, I know. Reagan would be criticized. Talk about Stalinism! It’s fair to say, then, that liberal reaction to Bush’s comments has been disproportionate to their content. It’s hard to imagine conservatives criticizing Reagan–unless, of course, you were alive during the Reagan administration. Here’s just one of many examples, from the L.A. Times, to which Richard Viguerie ran down a list of a few things conservatives were upset with Reagan about: “abortion, pornography, busing and economic issues, but at the core of the criticism is anti-communism. Across the board he seems to be deserting his anti-communist position he has had for the last 30 years.”

The headline on the story was “Reagan Seeks to Calm His Right-Wing Critics.” Both liberals and conservatives have taken some poetic license during the years with Reagan’s legacy. But Reagan was criticized. He responded to the criticism. The right engaged in a debate. There was plenty of disagreement, yet Reagan continues to be lionized by conservatives who, unlike Milbank and the left, aren’t terrified by the clash of ideas.

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Conservatism Must Avoid Conformity

As his interview earlier this week with Charlie Rose demonstrated, Governor Jeb Bush is fluent and in command of the issues, which is not surprising to anyone who knows him. There’s an active intelligence and engagement with public policy matters that makes him allergic to talking points.

But there are several others elements in the interview that I want to focus on, including Bush’s style. I don’t mean that in the shallow sense of the word. Rather, what I have in mind is a particular temperament and disposition in approaching politics and the wider world.

For one thing, there’s an admirable candor and genuineness in Bush, including his love and admiration for his brother and father and his principled and bountiful attitude on immigration. He also possesses a generosity of spirit, including his praise for President Obama on several national security issues. That’s not to say Bush didn’t articulate a powerful and effective case against the president or on behalf of conservatism. He did. Indeed, the fact that the former Florida governor wasn’t robotically critical of the president makes his criticisms more, not less, effective. And Bush is clearly a man without rancor, proving that principled individuals don’t have to be angry ones.

Beyond all that, though, Bush spoke about the importance of a “divergence of thought” and the dangers of orthodoxy when it comes to American political parties. He’s a man who clearly enjoys intellectual give-and-take; he talked about the good that emerges from “flourishing policy discussions.” Here Governor Bush is onto something important, which is that conservatism needs to avoid the mindset that demands conformity to the point of stifling silliness.

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As his interview earlier this week with Charlie Rose demonstrated, Governor Jeb Bush is fluent and in command of the issues, which is not surprising to anyone who knows him. There’s an active intelligence and engagement with public policy matters that makes him allergic to talking points.

But there are several others elements in the interview that I want to focus on, including Bush’s style. I don’t mean that in the shallow sense of the word. Rather, what I have in mind is a particular temperament and disposition in approaching politics and the wider world.

For one thing, there’s an admirable candor and genuineness in Bush, including his love and admiration for his brother and father and his principled and bountiful attitude on immigration. He also possesses a generosity of spirit, including his praise for President Obama on several national security issues. That’s not to say Bush didn’t articulate a powerful and effective case against the president or on behalf of conservatism. He did. Indeed, the fact that the former Florida governor wasn’t robotically critical of the president makes his criticisms more, not less, effective. And Bush is clearly a man without rancor, proving that principled individuals don’t have to be angry ones.

Beyond all that, though, Bush spoke about the importance of a “divergence of thought” and the dangers of orthodoxy when it comes to American political parties. He’s a man who clearly enjoys intellectual give-and-take; he talked about the good that emerges from “flourishing policy discussions.” Here Governor Bush is onto something important, which is that conservatism needs to avoid the mindset that demands conformity to the point of stifling silliness.

For example, in his interview with Rose, Bush reiterated that he would of course accept a hypothetical debt deal that included $10 in real spending cuts for every dollar in tax increases. This brought to mind one of the low points of the GOP primary, in which all eight candidates indicated they’d walk away from such a deal. We all understand why; if any of the candidates had said they would accept the deal, they would have been accused of being a RINO, moderate, weak, unprincipled and unconservative.

I argued at the time that lower taxes are a very good idea, but it is not a talisman. And if we have reached a point where Republicans running for president cannot envision (or at least admit to) any scenario in which they would raise taxes, even if as a result they could substantially roll back the modern welfare state, then it’s time to consider loosening the philosophical straitjacket they are in.

A philosophical movement and political party are better when they are drawn more to vigorous and spirited debates rather than excommunication. That is, I think, what Jeb Bush was saying; and he was right to say it.

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Jeb Bush’s Good Advice on Education

Salena Zito has posted her full interview with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, in which Bush suggests there is no need to look further for a vice presidential nominee than Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has been among the most common suggestions for the GOP nominee’s running mate, but now that Romney appears to have wrapped up the nomination, the calls for Rubio to join the ticket are growing louder. (Romney’s blandness has encouraged some commentators to caution him away from choosing Bob McDonnell or Rob Portman.)

But Bush’s other comments in the interview offer some good advice for Romney as well. Romney has been hoping to run against Obama’s record–massive deficits, unsustainable entitlements, high gas prices, high unemployment, etc. But he has already begun conceding the economy’s improvement and searching for someone other than the president to credit. Paul Ryan gave Romney an opportunity to make this election about advocating for future generations when Ryan released his budget aiming to steer the country away from crushing deficits and entitlement insolvency. If Romney follows Ryan in this direction, Bush gave him some more to work with yesterday:

Bush said he is confident Romney would advocate for education issues, an issue the former governor said he was “passionate” about.

“He knows the proper role of government in education, which is limited,” Bush said. “You do not have to have an interventionist federal policy to make something as important as education a national priority.”

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Salena Zito has posted her full interview with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, in which Bush suggests there is no need to look further for a vice presidential nominee than Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has been among the most common suggestions for the GOP nominee’s running mate, but now that Romney appears to have wrapped up the nomination, the calls for Rubio to join the ticket are growing louder. (Romney’s blandness has encouraged some commentators to caution him away from choosing Bob McDonnell or Rob Portman.)

But Bush’s other comments in the interview offer some good advice for Romney as well. Romney has been hoping to run against Obama’s record–massive deficits, unsustainable entitlements, high gas prices, high unemployment, etc. But he has already begun conceding the economy’s improvement and searching for someone other than the president to credit. Paul Ryan gave Romney an opportunity to make this election about advocating for future generations when Ryan released his budget aiming to steer the country away from crushing deficits and entitlement insolvency. If Romney follows Ryan in this direction, Bush gave him some more to work with yesterday:

Bush said he is confident Romney would advocate for education issues, an issue the former governor said he was “passionate” about.

“He knows the proper role of government in education, which is limited,” Bush said. “You do not have to have an interventionist federal policy to make something as important as education a national priority.”

It’s unclear why the GOP candidates have not been talking more about education. President Obama’s budget eliminates the D.C. scholarship program that offered many minority students a much-needed lifeline out of failing schools, and his outspoken opposition to the program has infuriated black and Hispanic leaders. And Chris Christie’s reforms in New Jersey have shown the benefit of bringing teacher’s union contracts closer to reality and freeing up funding for the students. (As someone who has covered education in New Jersey, I can tell you that students were stuck using outdated textbooks and had after-school tutoring and sports programs cut because the state’s Democrats saw unions, not students, as their constituency.)

Romney can also take a look at a new report released by a committee chaired by Condoleezza Rice (another common suggestion for vice president) and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein. The report makes for grim reading, and the task force concludes that the dire state of American education is a national security threat as well:

The lack of preparedness poses threats on five national security fronts: economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion, says the report. Too many young people are not employable in an increasingly high-skilled and global economy, and too many are not qualified to join the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have an inadequate level of education.

“Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security,” the report states. “Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

The broad implications of this issue make it ready-made for an election campaign focused on increasing opportunities for future generations. Bush, Christie, and Rice may not be running, but the rest of the conservative movement and its ascendant standard bearers should be listening carefully.

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Jeb Endorsement May Ease the Sting of Romney Advisor’s “Etch A Sketch” Gaffe

After months of speculation, former Florida governor Jeb Bush finally jumped on Mitt Romney’s bandwagon. The son and brother of the 41st and 43rd presidents issued a statement saying “now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall.” The endorsement, coming on the day after Romney’s impressive win in Illinois all but made his nomination inevitable, isn’t likely to be of all that much help to the frontrunner in upcoming primaries. But it is a signal that the one family that could be said to embody the Republican establishment if there even is such a thing has formally certified Romney’s nomination.

The endorsement also is welcome since it comes on a day when the Romney campaign is dealing with a gaffe by one of his advisors that has the potential to alienate conservatives just at the moment when they may be coming to terms with the fact that they must make their peace with the inevitable nominee. This morning on CNN, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney could tack back to the center after the primaries because:

Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.

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After months of speculation, former Florida governor Jeb Bush finally jumped on Mitt Romney’s bandwagon. The son and brother of the 41st and 43rd presidents issued a statement saying “now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall.” The endorsement, coming on the day after Romney’s impressive win in Illinois all but made his nomination inevitable, isn’t likely to be of all that much help to the frontrunner in upcoming primaries. But it is a signal that the one family that could be said to embody the Republican establishment if there even is such a thing has formally certified Romney’s nomination.

The endorsement also is welcome since it comes on a day when the Romney campaign is dealing with a gaffe by one of his advisors that has the potential to alienate conservatives just at the moment when they may be coming to terms with the fact that they must make their peace with the inevitable nominee. This morning on CNN, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney could tack back to the center after the primaries because:

Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.

While it is true that any candidate will sound a bit different in a general election than in a primary, that’s exactly the sort of statement that reminds conservatives of Romney’s record of flip-flopping and why they don’t trust him. He is the last candidate whose staffers should be talking about fall resets. Republicans would like to believe that the Romney who spoke last night after his win about the imperative of economic freedom being the driving force of his campaign was the real candidate. Fehrstrom’s “Etch A Sketch” comment is likely to be catnip for Rick Santorum’s campaign and help ensure that, no matter what follows, Romney will get spanked in Louisiana.

That makes it more than just an ordinary gaffe. If Romney wants to convince conservatives he means it, he’ll have to start by suspending Fehrnstrom. In the meantime, he’ll hope that Jeb Bush’s belated endorsement will take some of the sting out of what may be a bad news cycle for him.

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Jeb Bush Non-Endorsement May Be What Romney Needs

Of all the many possible reasons Jeb Bush seems to have backed off his earlier intention to endorse Mitt Romney, Politico’s Ben White received the most plausible I’ve heard. White tweeted yesterday that he heard from people close to Bush and was told: “Jeb won’t endorse in part because he knows Romney needs to show he can take down Newt w/out help.”

This is consistent with one way Republican and Democratic nominations differ. The Democratic approach, especially when nominating a more left-wing candidate, is to allow allies and especially the media to try and drag the candidate across the finish line. Sometimes it works–witness the current occupant of the White House. Sometimes it doesn’t–it was simply too much to ask that the country elect John Kerry president. Bush knows the GOP nominee will get even harsher scrutiny, and he must be able to stand on his own. But follow this line of thought a step further, and it begins to look like withholding his endorsement was the best thing Bush could have done for Romney, right now.

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Of all the many possible reasons Jeb Bush seems to have backed off his earlier intention to endorse Mitt Romney, Politico’s Ben White received the most plausible I’ve heard. White tweeted yesterday that he heard from people close to Bush and was told: “Jeb won’t endorse in part because he knows Romney needs to show he can take down Newt w/out help.”

This is consistent with one way Republican and Democratic nominations differ. The Democratic approach, especially when nominating a more left-wing candidate, is to allow allies and especially the media to try and drag the candidate across the finish line. Sometimes it works–witness the current occupant of the White House. Sometimes it doesn’t–it was simply too much to ask that the country elect John Kerry president. Bush knows the GOP nominee will get even harsher scrutiny, and he must be able to stand on his own. But follow this line of thought a step further, and it begins to look like withholding his endorsement was the best thing Bush could have done for Romney, right now.

Consider: the more “establishment” support Romney gets, the more Gingrich looks like the “outsider”–a remarkable, but understandable, piece of branding. Additionally, Romney’s biggest failing as a candidate seems to be his inability to connect with voters. It’s possible that many just cannot relate to the portrait of a man who doesn’t seem to have faced enough adversity in his life. Leave aside whether or not that is actually the case, since it’s subjective. Narratives stick. And if this is one signal being picked up by a majority of the electorate, then a bit of adversity may help.

In their new biography of Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman tell the story of young Mitt’s first moment of public humiliation. In high school, Romney joined the cross-country team for a 2.5-mile race at halftime of one of the school’s football games. Romney, in his excitement, treated the run as a sprint:

Everyone except Mitt returned before the second half began. Finally, the several hundred spectators noticed Mitt making an agonizingly slow approach to the cinder track. “Mitt kept falling and getting up, falling and getting up, and eventually he just crawled across the line,” [childhood friend Graham] McDonald recalled. It could have been one of the most humiliating moments of his young life. But then the crowd began to rise to its feet, giving Mitt a standing ovation for his effort. “It was definitely looked upon as a show of character. Other people would have quit,” another classmate, Sidney Barthwell, Jr., said.

The authors write that Romney learned a lesson about pacing himself that he keeps in mind to this day. But he probably learned another lesson: people like the scrappy underdog. Gingrich has played that role in this campaign virtually the entire time. Romney has played the frontrunner, the too-perfect contender it is easy to respect, but not root for.

Now Romney’s campaign is in free fall. Gingrich’s aggression is legendary, and it is not missing from this fight. Romney thinks he needs someone like Jeb Bush to come to his rescue. But Bush knows better. Romney will have to embody his own campaign message: he’ll have to earn it.

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Jeb Bush: Protect “the Right to Rise”

“If we want the whole world to be rich,” P.J. O’Rourke famously wrote, “we need to start loving wealth. In the difference between poverty and plenty, the problem is the poverty and not the difference.”

This is starkly at odds with President Obama’s overwrought, aggressively divisive rhetoric on income inequality. Demonizing wealth earned honestly, as the president likes to do, puts the nation’s poor at great economic risk. Defending the free market system that enables the poor to rise is essential to moving beyond divisive economics and giving everyone the same opportunity. That is the crux of Jeb Bush’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today:

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“If we want the whole world to be rich,” P.J. O’Rourke famously wrote, “we need to start loving wealth. In the difference between poverty and plenty, the problem is the poverty and not the difference.”

This is starkly at odds with President Obama’s overwrought, aggressively divisive rhetoric on income inequality. Demonizing wealth earned honestly, as the president likes to do, puts the nation’s poor at great economic risk. Defending the free market system that enables the poor to rise is essential to moving beyond divisive economics and giving everyone the same opportunity. That is the crux of Jeb Bush’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today:

We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. People understand this.

Punish job creators and you will have fewer jobs; punish wealth and you will have less wealth. Those who don’t have much wealth to begin with–the poor–will suffer most. The central question of a Mitt Romney candidacy, should he win the GOP nomination, is whether or not he will he feel secure enough to make this argument. On “Fox News Sunday” yesterday, Romney left the impression of a candidate who is halfway there:

WALLACE: Rick Perry calls for a 20 percent flat tax. Newt Gingrich has a 15 percent plan. You would keep the top tax rate at 35 percent. And in contrast to most of your rivals, you would not lower the tax on capital gains and dividends for anyone making more than $200,000 a year.

Question: aren’t you basically right there with Barack Obama; the rich should pay more?

ROMNEY: No, I’m just saying don’t raise taxes on anyone. I want to make sure that with the precious dollars we have, that we can provide tax relief, that those dollars go to middle income Americans.

The people who have been hurt in the Obama economy are not the wealthy. The wealthy are doing just fine. The people that have been hurt are the people in the middle class, so I focus those precious dollars that we have, I focus that on the middle class.

It’s unclear what Romney actually means when he says “those precious dollars that we have,” but the implication certainly seems to be one of attacking “the difference” and not “the poverty” itself. Later on in the interview, however, Romney comes back around to offering the kind of common sense and historical proficiency the current president lacks:

WALLACE: In your last book, you repeatedly talked about creative destruction, the idea of creative destruction in capitalism. First of all, what does that mean to you? Creative destruction?

ROMNEY: Well, it’s an unfortunate but in some respects essential part of free enterprise and the example I use in my book is when someone came up with inventing the tractor, it destroyed a lot of jobs. It destroyed many enterprises that people in the horse-drawn plow business went out of business. And yet the wealth of the American people and the well-being of the American people grew dramatically. Invention — whether of a new product or a new technique or a new invention tends to put some enterprises out of business and encourage other businesses to become more successful with the — with the outcome that the entire society becomes better off.

Romney is going to have to repeat that line often enough for the country to hear it over the inevitable flood of class warfare that the president’s nearly $1 billion will buy him. That’s what it boils down to: the president is proposing a system in which  “the right to rise,” as Bush calls it, is constantly attacked. Romney is defending a system in which the right to rise is available to all. He need not be shy about it.

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Get a Governor!

Jonathan Capehart makes a cogent argument for Obama to bring in a former Democratic governor “to widen his circle of confidants beyond his Chicago security blanketendell.” He recommends Ed Rendell or Jennifer Granholm. He explains:

As governors of struggling industrial states, Rendell and Granholm have had to make the painful budgetary decisions that Washington continues to put off. They have faced an angry and fearful electorate and have had to be inventive in addressing their states’ problems. The people they govern are the very voters Obama continues to have trouble connecting with. … Although they are party stars who wouldn’t upset the base, they could bring an “outsider” perspective to the West Wing. And because of term limits, both will be available come January.

Obama might do better with a governor who managed to hand the baton to a Democratic successor or who didn’t hike taxes (as Granholm did repeatedly), but he is on to something. In fact, the advice to bring a governor into the West Wing is even more apt for the GOP when it comes to selecting its 2012 nominee.

The Republicans also need an “outsider” voice not marred by years of Beltway bickering and who possesses a solid base of support in the heartland. The GOP also needs someone who has demonstrated competency in managing his state’s fiscal condition during a challenging era. And yes, having someone who connects with ordinary Americans would be an advantage over Obama, who at times can barely contain his disdain for his fellow countrymen.

So if the un-Obama is the Republicans’ ideal candidate, then a competent, experienced, fiscally hawkish governor or ex-governor should fit the bill. A doer rather than a talker would be ideal. There are plenty of Republicans who fit this bill — Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, to name a few. And Sarah Palin, who’s struggled to combat a well-entrenched media narrative, has a story to tell as well — about budget reform, fiscal sobriety, and fighting corruption.

The gap that Capehart identifies is not simply in Obama’s staff; it is in the president himself, who has shown little talent for governance and, for all his vaunted communication skills, is increasingly isolated from voters. Avoiding that set of deficiencies is a guide for the GOP in choosing a candidate who will match up well against Obama in 2012. Now all that Republicans need is a governor or ex-governor willing to run who can both excite and expand the base. Yes, it is a tall but hardly impossible order.

Jonathan Capehart makes a cogent argument for Obama to bring in a former Democratic governor “to widen his circle of confidants beyond his Chicago security blanketendell.” He recommends Ed Rendell or Jennifer Granholm. He explains:

As governors of struggling industrial states, Rendell and Granholm have had to make the painful budgetary decisions that Washington continues to put off. They have faced an angry and fearful electorate and have had to be inventive in addressing their states’ problems. The people they govern are the very voters Obama continues to have trouble connecting with. … Although they are party stars who wouldn’t upset the base, they could bring an “outsider” perspective to the West Wing. And because of term limits, both will be available come January.

Obama might do better with a governor who managed to hand the baton to a Democratic successor or who didn’t hike taxes (as Granholm did repeatedly), but he is on to something. In fact, the advice to bring a governor into the West Wing is even more apt for the GOP when it comes to selecting its 2012 nominee.

The Republicans also need an “outsider” voice not marred by years of Beltway bickering and who possesses a solid base of support in the heartland. The GOP also needs someone who has demonstrated competency in managing his state’s fiscal condition during a challenging era. And yes, having someone who connects with ordinary Americans would be an advantage over Obama, who at times can barely contain his disdain for his fellow countrymen.

So if the un-Obama is the Republicans’ ideal candidate, then a competent, experienced, fiscally hawkish governor or ex-governor should fit the bill. A doer rather than a talker would be ideal. There are plenty of Republicans who fit this bill — Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, to name a few. And Sarah Palin, who’s struggled to combat a well-entrenched media narrative, has a story to tell as well — about budget reform, fiscal sobriety, and fighting corruption.

The gap that Capehart identifies is not simply in Obama’s staff; it is in the president himself, who has shown little talent for governance and, for all his vaunted communication skills, is increasingly isolated from voters. Avoiding that set of deficiencies is a guide for the GOP in choosing a candidate who will match up well against Obama in 2012. Now all that Republicans need is a governor or ex-governor willing to run who can both excite and expand the base. Yes, it is a tall but hardly impossible order.

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Some Polls You Can Ignore

There is a trickle. Soon, there will be a flood. Polling for the 2012 GOP presidential contenders, that is. I’m going to ignore these for a very long time. They are meaningless at this stage. (Ask Rudy Giuliani.) They are a function of name identification. The field is not set, the candidates have not yet engaged, and the inevitable unflattering revelations haven’t come. As we learned in 2008, it is not necessarily money and a strong organization that prevail. John McCain had neither — and nearly fell out of the race altogether after the bruising immigration-reform debate. You actually have to see how the candidates perform and who cannabalizes whose voters.

And while we know the central domestic issues (e.g., economic recovery, repealing ObamaCare), we don’t yet know whether even more pressing issues will emerge. Where we will be on Iran six months or a year from now? Will the GOP manage to rip up ObamaCare, thus eliminating a huge problem for Mitt Romney? Will there be a serious terror incident? Moreover, it is very possible that some of the “I’d rather not” potential candidates (e.g., Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush) will decide, “Well if you insist…”

And the 2010 results will have much to tell us as well. If Sarah Palin’s picks cruise to victory, she’ll have bragging rights. If they do worse than “establishment” candidates, it will be one more point of criticism.

But one thing is clear: conservatives haven’t found their guy/gal yet. That will take months and months. So until then, forget about those polls. At some point they’ll become intriguing — but not for a long, long time.

There is a trickle. Soon, there will be a flood. Polling for the 2012 GOP presidential contenders, that is. I’m going to ignore these for a very long time. They are meaningless at this stage. (Ask Rudy Giuliani.) They are a function of name identification. The field is not set, the candidates have not yet engaged, and the inevitable unflattering revelations haven’t come. As we learned in 2008, it is not necessarily money and a strong organization that prevail. John McCain had neither — and nearly fell out of the race altogether after the bruising immigration-reform debate. You actually have to see how the candidates perform and who cannabalizes whose voters.

And while we know the central domestic issues (e.g., economic recovery, repealing ObamaCare), we don’t yet know whether even more pressing issues will emerge. Where we will be on Iran six months or a year from now? Will the GOP manage to rip up ObamaCare, thus eliminating a huge problem for Mitt Romney? Will there be a serious terror incident? Moreover, it is very possible that some of the “I’d rather not” potential candidates (e.g., Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush) will decide, “Well if you insist…”

And the 2010 results will have much to tell us as well. If Sarah Palin’s picks cruise to victory, she’ll have bragging rights. If they do worse than “establishment” candidates, it will be one more point of criticism.

But one thing is clear: conservatives haven’t found their guy/gal yet. That will take months and months. So until then, forget about those polls. At some point they’ll become intriguing — but not for a long, long time.

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Desperation Time

The Democrats are now in full retreat. Less 75 days before the midterm elections, the Republicans have a historic lead in congressional generic polling. The president’s approval rating is sinking. It is now every man for himself, as the Democrats scramble to be the ones on the electoral lifeboat that will survive the electoral wave. The smarter and more vulnerable Democrats distance themselves from Obama on the Ground Zero mosque. A few savvy Senate Democrats back extension of the Bush tax cuts. And now they’re even promising to “improve” ObamaCare.

But wait. As to the latter, why not do it before the election? Hey, there is time. They claim that they’re not out of touch. They say the bill could use some work. So how about it, fellows? Oh, yes, I guess they don’t really mean it. This would be another gambit, a fraudulent inducement really, to convince voters to spare them the ax. We’ll put immigration reform at the top of the agenda. We’ll pass a budget. We’ll fix ObamaCare. Desperation rivals dishonesty as the central feature of their campaign strategy.

As the great philosopher Groucho Marx put it, you don’t like those principles? They’ve got other principles. Well, not a principle but an eye-rolling mantra of declining utility: George W. Bush.

It is worth pondering what they mean by invoking the name of the president whose approval is now higher than Obama’s in key congressional districts. The Republicans are going to start another surge and win the war in Iraq all over again? A Republican Senate will insist on judicial appointees of the caliber of John Roberts and Sam Alito? A Republican Congress will insist we not raise taxes in the midst of a recession or burden the private sector with a mind-numbingly complicated regimen of financial reforms? Many voters would say, “Sign me up!” As his brother Jeb Bush put it: “It’s a loser issue — they have a big L on their foreheads. If that’s all they’ve got, it’s a pretty good indication of the problems that the Democrats face in 2010.”

Then there is the old standby: insult the American people. We are bigots, rubes, and Constitutional illiterates, the left tells us. Finding themselves on the wrong side of an emotional issue, they have lashed out at the Ground Zero mosque opponents. It is too much even for Howard Dean: “I think some of my own folks on my end of the spectrum of the party are demonizing some fairly decent people that are opposed to this. Sixty-five percent of the people in this country are not right-wing biogts.” Aww, thanks, Howard. And it’s 68 percent, but who’s counting?

If you think the Democrats’ strategy seems scattered and bizarre, you are not alone. The voters, already cynical and angry, are unlikely to be charmed by transparent campaign inducements or to be scared by bogeymen. Nor are they likely to reward with their votes those labeling them racists. In fact, if the voters didn’t have reason to throw the Democrats out before, all of this may convince them it’s time to give others a chance.

The desperation of the left stems not merely from the prospect of an election wipeout but also from the potential for a repudiation of the undistilled liberal rule that has riled voters. The “permanent majority”, the shift from a center-right to a center-left country — that fantasy goes poof! The real possibility that ObamaCare will never go into effect, leaving as Obama’s sole accomplishment the completion of the Iraq war successfully waged against his objections, is no doubt terrifying to the left.

But if you think the Democrats are desperate now, wait until the election returns are in. The effort to explain the results — to furiously spin the returns as really good news for Obama and to simultaneously blame the results on anti-Muslim hysteria — will make the Democrats’ current campaign tactics seem tame and sane by comparison.

The Democrats are now in full retreat. Less 75 days before the midterm elections, the Republicans have a historic lead in congressional generic polling. The president’s approval rating is sinking. It is now every man for himself, as the Democrats scramble to be the ones on the electoral lifeboat that will survive the electoral wave. The smarter and more vulnerable Democrats distance themselves from Obama on the Ground Zero mosque. A few savvy Senate Democrats back extension of the Bush tax cuts. And now they’re even promising to “improve” ObamaCare.

But wait. As to the latter, why not do it before the election? Hey, there is time. They claim that they’re not out of touch. They say the bill could use some work. So how about it, fellows? Oh, yes, I guess they don’t really mean it. This would be another gambit, a fraudulent inducement really, to convince voters to spare them the ax. We’ll put immigration reform at the top of the agenda. We’ll pass a budget. We’ll fix ObamaCare. Desperation rivals dishonesty as the central feature of their campaign strategy.

As the great philosopher Groucho Marx put it, you don’t like those principles? They’ve got other principles. Well, not a principle but an eye-rolling mantra of declining utility: George W. Bush.

It is worth pondering what they mean by invoking the name of the president whose approval is now higher than Obama’s in key congressional districts. The Republicans are going to start another surge and win the war in Iraq all over again? A Republican Senate will insist on judicial appointees of the caliber of John Roberts and Sam Alito? A Republican Congress will insist we not raise taxes in the midst of a recession or burden the private sector with a mind-numbingly complicated regimen of financial reforms? Many voters would say, “Sign me up!” As his brother Jeb Bush put it: “It’s a loser issue — they have a big L on their foreheads. If that’s all they’ve got, it’s a pretty good indication of the problems that the Democrats face in 2010.”

Then there is the old standby: insult the American people. We are bigots, rubes, and Constitutional illiterates, the left tells us. Finding themselves on the wrong side of an emotional issue, they have lashed out at the Ground Zero mosque opponents. It is too much even for Howard Dean: “I think some of my own folks on my end of the spectrum of the party are demonizing some fairly decent people that are opposed to this. Sixty-five percent of the people in this country are not right-wing biogts.” Aww, thanks, Howard. And it’s 68 percent, but who’s counting?

If you think the Democrats’ strategy seems scattered and bizarre, you are not alone. The voters, already cynical and angry, are unlikely to be charmed by transparent campaign inducements or to be scared by bogeymen. Nor are they likely to reward with their votes those labeling them racists. In fact, if the voters didn’t have reason to throw the Democrats out before, all of this may convince them it’s time to give others a chance.

The desperation of the left stems not merely from the prospect of an election wipeout but also from the potential for a repudiation of the undistilled liberal rule that has riled voters. The “permanent majority”, the shift from a center-right to a center-left country — that fantasy goes poof! The real possibility that ObamaCare will never go into effect, leaving as Obama’s sole accomplishment the completion of the Iraq war successfully waged against his objections, is no doubt terrifying to the left.

But if you think the Democrats are desperate now, wait until the election returns are in. The effort to explain the results — to furiously spin the returns as really good news for Obama and to simultaneously blame the results on anti-Muslim hysteria — will make the Democrats’ current campaign tactics seem tame and sane by comparison.

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Forget the Rule Book

Ross Douthat looks at the pre-positioning for the 2012 Republican presidential primary. He explains that there are the populists — Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee — with devoted followers and equally devoted detractors, and that there is the “next in line” Republican — Mitt Romney. The name of the game, Douthat suggests, for establishment Republicans (the geniuses who preferred Charlie Crist to Marco Rubio?) is to stage “a kind of intra-establishment coup, in which Romney is knocked from his perch as the safe, sober choice and a fresher figure takes his place.” Douthat throws out some contenders: Tim Pawlenty, Jeb Bush, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, and Haley Barbour. Douthat advises Romney to “co-opt some of the populist zeal that a Palin or a Huckabee” exhibit without alienating the establishment.

What’s wrong with this analysis? It has no context, and Douthat treats the contenders as archetypes (“sober reformer,” “unpredictable populist,” etc.) rather than as actual contenders with personalities and histories. Romney’s biggest problem isn’t Palin or Huckabee or any other Republican; it is that he championed a health-care bill that looks very similar to ObamaCare, which is the object of the entire party’s ire. Oh, yes — that.

If we learned anything in 2008 it was that context matters. The “unbeatable” Hillary Clinton ran precisely the wrong campaign (“experience”) in a “change” election year. Obama never looked back after the financial meltdown, because the context had changed — wariness of George W. Bush had been transformed into fury over the economic collapse. So, yes, the GOP has a habit of giving the nod to the “runner-up” from the previous year; but we’ve had a political earthquake, and the past is not much of a guide to the new political landscape.

Moreover, if Romney or any candidate is banking on establishment Republicans, as Douthat explains, “to rally around him once the primary voting starts — not out of love or admiration, but out of fear of the populist alternative,” he really has not been paying attention. The “establishment” isn’t really in charge of much of anything any more. The party elders, for better or worse, are being ignored. Ask Rubio, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Sharon Angle, and the rest if endorsements by the establishment and big-name donors are the key to victory. The old rules for picking presidential nominees (No congressmen! Must be a household name!) and the creaky campaign customs (The former governor of Maryland endorses candidate X!) have been blown up — first by Obama and then by the Obama backlash.

Maybe Romney four years after his first run can close the sale and figure out a way to deal with RomneyCare. But he won’t do it by splitting the difference between the Tea Party and the Beltway or by ingratiating himself with insiders (the ones who took more than a year to figure out what the Tea Partiers were all about). That sort of thinking is so 2008. The context has changed. The rules — if there are any — are different.

It’s not clear whether outsiderness or executive acumen will carry the day. The only thing for certain is that the old rule book is of absolutely no help.

Ross Douthat looks at the pre-positioning for the 2012 Republican presidential primary. He explains that there are the populists — Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee — with devoted followers and equally devoted detractors, and that there is the “next in line” Republican — Mitt Romney. The name of the game, Douthat suggests, for establishment Republicans (the geniuses who preferred Charlie Crist to Marco Rubio?) is to stage “a kind of intra-establishment coup, in which Romney is knocked from his perch as the safe, sober choice and a fresher figure takes his place.” Douthat throws out some contenders: Tim Pawlenty, Jeb Bush, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, and Haley Barbour. Douthat advises Romney to “co-opt some of the populist zeal that a Palin or a Huckabee” exhibit without alienating the establishment.

What’s wrong with this analysis? It has no context, and Douthat treats the contenders as archetypes (“sober reformer,” “unpredictable populist,” etc.) rather than as actual contenders with personalities and histories. Romney’s biggest problem isn’t Palin or Huckabee or any other Republican; it is that he championed a health-care bill that looks very similar to ObamaCare, which is the object of the entire party’s ire. Oh, yes — that.

If we learned anything in 2008 it was that context matters. The “unbeatable” Hillary Clinton ran precisely the wrong campaign (“experience”) in a “change” election year. Obama never looked back after the financial meltdown, because the context had changed — wariness of George W. Bush had been transformed into fury over the economic collapse. So, yes, the GOP has a habit of giving the nod to the “runner-up” from the previous year; but we’ve had a political earthquake, and the past is not much of a guide to the new political landscape.

Moreover, if Romney or any candidate is banking on establishment Republicans, as Douthat explains, “to rally around him once the primary voting starts — not out of love or admiration, but out of fear of the populist alternative,” he really has not been paying attention. The “establishment” isn’t really in charge of much of anything any more. The party elders, for better or worse, are being ignored. Ask Rubio, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Sharon Angle, and the rest if endorsements by the establishment and big-name donors are the key to victory. The old rules for picking presidential nominees (No congressmen! Must be a household name!) and the creaky campaign customs (The former governor of Maryland endorses candidate X!) have been blown up — first by Obama and then by the Obama backlash.

Maybe Romney four years after his first run can close the sale and figure out a way to deal with RomneyCare. But he won’t do it by splitting the difference between the Tea Party and the Beltway or by ingratiating himself with insiders (the ones who took more than a year to figure out what the Tea Partiers were all about). That sort of thinking is so 2008. The context has changed. The rules — if there are any — are different.

It’s not clear whether outsiderness or executive acumen will carry the day. The only thing for certain is that the old rule book is of absolutely no help.

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Jeb Bush Hiding in Plain Sight?

Joshua GreenAtlantic‘s fine political and investigative journalist, takes to the Boston Globe to make some observations about Jeb Bush. He writes:

[Mitt] Romney may have bested [in PAC fundraising] Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and the rest of the field. But another potent political force — one who raised no money and has no PAC — could still win the nomination were he inclined to pursue it: Jeb Bush is the candidate hiding in plain sight. The brother and son of presidents stepped back from elected politics after his second term as Florida governor ended three years ago. At 57, he’s in his prime.

He is not buying that the Bush name is a problem:

For one thing, no obvious frontrunner has emerged nor seems likely to. … Another way of putting it is that each of the leading candidates is somehow flawed … Bush, on the other hand, has a solid conservative record that wasn’t amassed in Washington and broad appeal in a critical state; for a party conspicuously lacking a positive agenda, he’s also known as an ideas guy. Bush hasn’t followed the Tea Partiers to the political fringes — he opposed Arizona’s racial profiling law, for instance — but neither has he ignored them.

Green is spot on, but there is a potential deal breaker. It’s not at all clear that Jeb Bush wants to make a run and take a new round of ammunition aimed at his brother. This, however, is not an obstacle but a choice. If Jeb Bush, urged by Republicans anxious if not desperate to find a solid, electable conservative, decides his country and party need him, there’s no reason he wouldn’t be at or near the top of the pack of 2012 contenders. But there is plenty of time — no one really wants to hear announcements for 2012 candidates in the summer of 2010.

Joshua GreenAtlantic‘s fine political and investigative journalist, takes to the Boston Globe to make some observations about Jeb Bush. He writes:

[Mitt] Romney may have bested [in PAC fundraising] Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and the rest of the field. But another potent political force — one who raised no money and has no PAC — could still win the nomination were he inclined to pursue it: Jeb Bush is the candidate hiding in plain sight. The brother and son of presidents stepped back from elected politics after his second term as Florida governor ended three years ago. At 57, he’s in his prime.

He is not buying that the Bush name is a problem:

For one thing, no obvious frontrunner has emerged nor seems likely to. … Another way of putting it is that each of the leading candidates is somehow flawed … Bush, on the other hand, has a solid conservative record that wasn’t amassed in Washington and broad appeal in a critical state; for a party conspicuously lacking a positive agenda, he’s also known as an ideas guy. Bush hasn’t followed the Tea Partiers to the political fringes — he opposed Arizona’s racial profiling law, for instance — but neither has he ignored them.

Green is spot on, but there is a potential deal breaker. It’s not at all clear that Jeb Bush wants to make a run and take a new round of ammunition aimed at his brother. This, however, is not an obstacle but a choice. If Jeb Bush, urged by Republicans anxious if not desperate to find a solid, electable conservative, decides his country and party need him, there’s no reason he wouldn’t be at or near the top of the pack of 2012 contenders. But there is plenty of time — no one really wants to hear announcements for 2012 candidates in the summer of 2010.

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Jeb in 2012?

It’s widely discussed among those conservatives who have not yet found the presidential candidate of their dreams for 2012 that Jeb Bush might, if not for the name, earn that distinction. He was a successful governor in a diverse state, combines wonkish devotion to policy with an accessible personality, and is intellectually and instinctively conservative. But it is widely assumed that he is not running and won’t, both because of his desire to make money in the private sector and because of the name. The New York Times provides an altogether favorable profile of him (which the Gray Lady sometimes is wont to do for conservatives who are not running for office and who can hence make those who are look poor by comparison). The report explains:

The party needs a messenger who can keep its Tea Party-type activists energized behind an agenda and a nominee. But Republicans will also be looking for someone who can reposition the party nationally and make its more strident ideology palatable to the wider American electorate.

This explains why some influential Republicans persist in believing that Mr. Bush might still make a strong candidate in 2012. He is a favorite of the anti-establishment crowd (he is said to have mentored Marco Rubio, the Senate challenger in Florida who gave the Tea Partiers a national lift), but he is also a political celebrity with a pronounced independent streak. As governor, for instance, Mr. Bush strongly opposed drilling in the shallow waters off Florida, and he favors increasing legal immigration, rather than restricting it.

There is this intriguing discussion about the family name:

Jeb Bush’s admirers insist, however, that whatever cloud existed over the name is lifting, as memories of the last Bush era recede, replaced by a hardened conservative opposition to Mr. Obama’s policies. And those who know Mr. Bush say he has never concerned himself with it. “He’s the guy who cares about that the least,” said Nicholas Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. …

When I asked him whether Mr. Obama had a legitimate point — whether his brother’s administration did, in fact, bear responsibility for the country’s economic collapse — Mr. Bush paused and, for the only time in our interview, appeared to carefully assemble his words.

“Look, I think there was a whole series of decisions made over a long period of time, the cumulative effect of which created the financial meltdown that has created the hardship that we’re facing,” he said slowly. “Congress, the administration, everyone can accept some responsibility.”

“The issue to me is what we do now,” Jeb Bush said. “Who cares who’s to blame?”

Let’s be honest: most conventional wisdom about who can and cannot run or win has been blown to smithereens. If Obama, with no executive experience and a mere two undistinguished years in the Senate, can win, all bets are off. And more to the point, if Obama continues on his current trajectory and the public becomes desperate to find a fiscal reformer and a stalwart defender of American interests abroad, I suspect they won’t care all that much about that person’s last name. The only issue is whether Jeb Bush wants to be that man.

It’s widely discussed among those conservatives who have not yet found the presidential candidate of their dreams for 2012 that Jeb Bush might, if not for the name, earn that distinction. He was a successful governor in a diverse state, combines wonkish devotion to policy with an accessible personality, and is intellectually and instinctively conservative. But it is widely assumed that he is not running and won’t, both because of his desire to make money in the private sector and because of the name. The New York Times provides an altogether favorable profile of him (which the Gray Lady sometimes is wont to do for conservatives who are not running for office and who can hence make those who are look poor by comparison). The report explains:

The party needs a messenger who can keep its Tea Party-type activists energized behind an agenda and a nominee. But Republicans will also be looking for someone who can reposition the party nationally and make its more strident ideology palatable to the wider American electorate.

This explains why some influential Republicans persist in believing that Mr. Bush might still make a strong candidate in 2012. He is a favorite of the anti-establishment crowd (he is said to have mentored Marco Rubio, the Senate challenger in Florida who gave the Tea Partiers a national lift), but he is also a political celebrity with a pronounced independent streak. As governor, for instance, Mr. Bush strongly opposed drilling in the shallow waters off Florida, and he favors increasing legal immigration, rather than restricting it.

There is this intriguing discussion about the family name:

Jeb Bush’s admirers insist, however, that whatever cloud existed over the name is lifting, as memories of the last Bush era recede, replaced by a hardened conservative opposition to Mr. Obama’s policies. And those who know Mr. Bush say he has never concerned himself with it. “He’s the guy who cares about that the least,” said Nicholas Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. …

When I asked him whether Mr. Obama had a legitimate point — whether his brother’s administration did, in fact, bear responsibility for the country’s economic collapse — Mr. Bush paused and, for the only time in our interview, appeared to carefully assemble his words.

“Look, I think there was a whole series of decisions made over a long period of time, the cumulative effect of which created the financial meltdown that has created the hardship that we’re facing,” he said slowly. “Congress, the administration, everyone can accept some responsibility.”

“The issue to me is what we do now,” Jeb Bush said. “Who cares who’s to blame?”

Let’s be honest: most conventional wisdom about who can and cannot run or win has been blown to smithereens. If Obama, with no executive experience and a mere two undistinguished years in the Senate, can win, all bets are off. And more to the point, if Obama continues on his current trajectory and the public becomes desperate to find a fiscal reformer and a stalwart defender of American interests abroad, I suspect they won’t care all that much about that person’s last name. The only issue is whether Jeb Bush wants to be that man.

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What About Jeb?

Steven Calabresi writes:

Republicans everywhere should take a close look at Jeb Bush as a presidential candidate in 2012. Jeb is tough on foreign policy and is a solid conservative, but he is a small government conservative who wants to cut taxes and spending. Jeb’s signature domestic policy issue is choice in education – an issue that social and economic conservatives care about passionately. He is fluent in Spanish, is married to an Hispanic-American, and could reach out to the socially conservative up-for-grabs Hispanic swing vote. Jeb was Governor of Florida for eight years and did a splendid job in every way. He is experienced and tough, and he knows the issues. Jeb is also articulate and persuasive. Republicans have a number of good presidential prospects to consider, but Jeb Bush deserves particular attention.

Calabresi is right — but there are, of course, some questions about a Jeb run in 2012. First, it’s not at all clear that he’s interested. He’s not doing the sorts of things — appearances at GOP events, spending PAC money on gratitude-inducing endorsements, etc. — which the other interested contenders do. It doesn’t mean those activities two years before the primaries are necessary to a successful candidacy; it simply indicates a  lack of fire-in-the-belly interest at this point. Second, his immigration stance is problematic but not fatal. John McCain survived the anti immigration reform phalanx to win the GOP race in 2008, so it’s been done before. But it would be a sore point with many in the conservative base. Third is the name. George W. Bush is looking darn good in retrospect, but it’s not clear the party or the country are ready for a third Bush. In some sense, it’s silly to knock him out because of his familial relationships, but anti-dynasty sentiment is real. And in a “move forward, not-the-same-old-Republicans” year, a candidate whose name rekindles the dog-days of the GOP may have a steep hill to climb.

Do any of these factors remove Jeb from consideration? Only the first — one can’t force unwilling candidates to run. But if we learned anything in 2008, it was that a pro-immigration reformer whose face is not fresh can, in the right primary setting, out-muscle better organized and funded candidates. There will be — because there always are — the unexpected and the unlikely candidates in 2012. So don’t count out anyone yet and certainly not an ex-governor as successful as Jeb in selling bread-and-butter conservative ideas to a diverse electorate.

Steven Calabresi writes:

Republicans everywhere should take a close look at Jeb Bush as a presidential candidate in 2012. Jeb is tough on foreign policy and is a solid conservative, but he is a small government conservative who wants to cut taxes and spending. Jeb’s signature domestic policy issue is choice in education – an issue that social and economic conservatives care about passionately. He is fluent in Spanish, is married to an Hispanic-American, and could reach out to the socially conservative up-for-grabs Hispanic swing vote. Jeb was Governor of Florida for eight years and did a splendid job in every way. He is experienced and tough, and he knows the issues. Jeb is also articulate and persuasive. Republicans have a number of good presidential prospects to consider, but Jeb Bush deserves particular attention.

Calabresi is right — but there are, of course, some questions about a Jeb run in 2012. First, it’s not at all clear that he’s interested. He’s not doing the sorts of things — appearances at GOP events, spending PAC money on gratitude-inducing endorsements, etc. — which the other interested contenders do. It doesn’t mean those activities two years before the primaries are necessary to a successful candidacy; it simply indicates a  lack of fire-in-the-belly interest at this point. Second, his immigration stance is problematic but not fatal. John McCain survived the anti immigration reform phalanx to win the GOP race in 2008, so it’s been done before. But it would be a sore point with many in the conservative base. Third is the name. George W. Bush is looking darn good in retrospect, but it’s not clear the party or the country are ready for a third Bush. In some sense, it’s silly to knock him out because of his familial relationships, but anti-dynasty sentiment is real. And in a “move forward, not-the-same-old-Republicans” year, a candidate whose name rekindles the dog-days of the GOP may have a steep hill to climb.

Do any of these factors remove Jeb from consideration? Only the first — one can’t force unwilling candidates to run. But if we learned anything in 2008, it was that a pro-immigration reformer whose face is not fresh can, in the right primary setting, out-muscle better organized and funded candidates. There will be — because there always are — the unexpected and the unlikely candidates in 2012. So don’t count out anyone yet and certainly not an ex-governor as successful as Jeb in selling bread-and-butter conservative ideas to a diverse electorate.

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On Arizona’s Immigration Law

Michael Gerson of the Washington Post and Byron York of the Washington Examiner, two bright men, have engaged in a constructive debate about the Arizona immigration law. You can find the back and forth between them here, here, and here.

My own sense of the law, which is carefully written, is that it’s not nearly as draconian as its critics insist — and much of what defenders of the law have been saying about its actual meaning and effect is in fact correct. The law does not give police the right to stop anyone they want to ask for papers solely based on race or ethnicity. The charges that this law is driven by racism and that Arizona has become a “police state” are extreme and reckless. The vast majority of the people of Arizona are responding to a real and present danger — and most of the American public agrees with them (51 percent v. 39 percent, according to Gallup).

Still, I would oppose the law (as does Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and Karl Rove, among others) on the grounds that it potentially changes for the worse the relationship between the community and the local and state police and risks treating some people as guilty until proven innocent. The Arizona law, in my estimation, nudges things a bit in that direction, which concerns me.

In the hands of responsible police officers — which is to say the vast majority of police officers — it won’t lead to abuse. In the hands of less than responsible police officers, it could, I fear, lead to trouble. The real-world effect of the law — and perhaps its unstated intentions — will be to allow police to heighten scrutiny on Hispanics in the hopes of easing the very real illegal immigration problem. That is the tension inherent in this law. To give priority to one concern over the other doesn’t mean the other argument is invalid or supported by ignorant or malevolent forces.

The final verdict on the Arizona law, I think, depends on how the law plays out in practice. So my judgment on its relative merits and demerits is tentative and open to revision, depending on what we learn from its experience — and this, in turn, depends on which parts of the law passes judicial and constitutional muster.

It’s all pretty wishy-washy, I know, but there you go.

Michael Gerson of the Washington Post and Byron York of the Washington Examiner, two bright men, have engaged in a constructive debate about the Arizona immigration law. You can find the back and forth between them here, here, and here.

My own sense of the law, which is carefully written, is that it’s not nearly as draconian as its critics insist — and much of what defenders of the law have been saying about its actual meaning and effect is in fact correct. The law does not give police the right to stop anyone they want to ask for papers solely based on race or ethnicity. The charges that this law is driven by racism and that Arizona has become a “police state” are extreme and reckless. The vast majority of the people of Arizona are responding to a real and present danger — and most of the American public agrees with them (51 percent v. 39 percent, according to Gallup).

Still, I would oppose the law (as does Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and Karl Rove, among others) on the grounds that it potentially changes for the worse the relationship between the community and the local and state police and risks treating some people as guilty until proven innocent. The Arizona law, in my estimation, nudges things a bit in that direction, which concerns me.

In the hands of responsible police officers — which is to say the vast majority of police officers — it won’t lead to abuse. In the hands of less than responsible police officers, it could, I fear, lead to trouble. The real-world effect of the law — and perhaps its unstated intentions — will be to allow police to heighten scrutiny on Hispanics in the hopes of easing the very real illegal immigration problem. That is the tension inherent in this law. To give priority to one concern over the other doesn’t mean the other argument is invalid or supported by ignorant or malevolent forces.

The final verdict on the Arizona law, I think, depends on how the law plays out in practice. So my judgment on its relative merits and demerits is tentative and open to revision, depending on what we learn from its experience — and this, in turn, depends on which parts of the law passes judicial and constitutional muster.

It’s all pretty wishy-washy, I know, but there you go.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Harry Reid has even managed to stiffen Olympia Snowe’s spine: “For a second day in row, Democrats failed to open debate on a Wall Street reform bill after Senate Republicans held ranks to block it. The vote was 57 to 41, with all Republicans who were present voting no. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was the lone Democrat to vote no on Monday, and he voted no again. … In fact, some of the moderates who might be most likely to vote yes — such as Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe — have expressed displeasure that Reid is forcing the votes even as bipartisan negotiations on the bill go forward.”

Tom Goldstein thinks Obama will pick Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. Among his smart observations: “Elena Kagan has significant demonstrated success in working with conservatives at Harvard Law School, which is an exceptionally challenging environment, and has parallels to the relationships at the Court. But she has never been a judge, and would as a consequence presumably take longer than the others to adapt to the new role.”

Israel isn’t going to buy into “containment” if that’s where Obama is heading with Iran: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the world cannot afford to wait too long to see if Iran backs down on its nuclear program while in Washington on Tuesday. In a news conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak said he supports the US focus on tougher economic sanctions against Teheran, but he added that only time will tell to what extent sanctions are effective in persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Barak says that if the international community waits too long, Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon that he says would ‘change the landscape,’ and not just of the Middle East.”

According to Robert Gates, “Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with so many rockets that they are at a point where they have more missiles than most governments in the world.” So what are we going to do about it?

Not remotely the most transparent administration in history: “The Obama administration has only partially complied with congressional subpoenas for information on the deadly November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. The failure by the Defense and Justice departments to turn over all the requested documentation — which they say they do not intend to do — is not likely to ease the growing tension between some key senators and the Obama administration over the incident at the Army base on Nov. 5, 2009.”

Jeb Bush speaks out against Arizona’s immigration law. “I think it creates unintended consequences. … It’s difficult for me to imagine how you’re going to enforce this law. It places a significant burden on local law enforcement and you have civil liberties issues that are significant as well.”

Michael Gerson: “American states have broad powers. But they are not permitted their own foreign or immigration policy. One reason is that immigration law concerns not only the treatment of illegal immigrants but also the proper treatment of American citizens. And here the Arizona law fails badly. … Americans are not accustomed to the command ‘Your papers, please,’ however politely delivered. The distinctly American response to such a request would be ‘Go to hell,’ and then ‘See you in court.’”

The Obami’s multilaterialism fetish continues: “Step by tentative step, the Obama Administration is getting closer to embracing the International Criminal Court. The White House won’t join the Hague-based body soon, but that’s its logical endpoint. Answerable to virtually no one, the ICC was created by the 1998 United Nations’s Rome Statute to prosecute war and other ‘serious’ crimes.”

Harry Reid has even managed to stiffen Olympia Snowe’s spine: “For a second day in row, Democrats failed to open debate on a Wall Street reform bill after Senate Republicans held ranks to block it. The vote was 57 to 41, with all Republicans who were present voting no. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was the lone Democrat to vote no on Monday, and he voted no again. … In fact, some of the moderates who might be most likely to vote yes — such as Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe — have expressed displeasure that Reid is forcing the votes even as bipartisan negotiations on the bill go forward.”

Tom Goldstein thinks Obama will pick Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. Among his smart observations: “Elena Kagan has significant demonstrated success in working with conservatives at Harvard Law School, which is an exceptionally challenging environment, and has parallels to the relationships at the Court. But she has never been a judge, and would as a consequence presumably take longer than the others to adapt to the new role.”

Israel isn’t going to buy into “containment” if that’s where Obama is heading with Iran: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the world cannot afford to wait too long to see if Iran backs down on its nuclear program while in Washington on Tuesday. In a news conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak said he supports the US focus on tougher economic sanctions against Teheran, but he added that only time will tell to what extent sanctions are effective in persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Barak says that if the international community waits too long, Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon that he says would ‘change the landscape,’ and not just of the Middle East.”

According to Robert Gates, “Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with so many rockets that they are at a point where they have more missiles than most governments in the world.” So what are we going to do about it?

Not remotely the most transparent administration in history: “The Obama administration has only partially complied with congressional subpoenas for information on the deadly November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. The failure by the Defense and Justice departments to turn over all the requested documentation — which they say they do not intend to do — is not likely to ease the growing tension between some key senators and the Obama administration over the incident at the Army base on Nov. 5, 2009.”

Jeb Bush speaks out against Arizona’s immigration law. “I think it creates unintended consequences. … It’s difficult for me to imagine how you’re going to enforce this law. It places a significant burden on local law enforcement and you have civil liberties issues that are significant as well.”

Michael Gerson: “American states have broad powers. But they are not permitted their own foreign or immigration policy. One reason is that immigration law concerns not only the treatment of illegal immigrants but also the proper treatment of American citizens. And here the Arizona law fails badly. … Americans are not accustomed to the command ‘Your papers, please,’ however politely delivered. The distinctly American response to such a request would be ‘Go to hell,’ and then ‘See you in court.’”

The Obami’s multilaterialism fetish continues: “Step by tentative step, the Obama Administration is getting closer to embracing the International Criminal Court. The White House won’t join the Hague-based body soon, but that’s its logical endpoint. Answerable to virtually no one, the ICC was created by the 1998 United Nations’s Rome Statute to prosecute war and other ‘serious’ crimes.”

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Crist Crumbles

Charlie Crist is apparently throwing in the towel on the Republican primary — and what remains of his political future. Politico reports:

Florida GOP Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a Republican-supported teacher pay bill Thursday, a move that heightened speculation that he is considering waging an independent bid for Senate.

The contentious bill, which would have linked teacher pay to student test results, carried the backing of prominent Republican legislators and had been promoted by popular former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, who championed the measure through his foundation in TV ads.The legislation was loudly opposed by teachers’ unions, who flooded Crist’s office with letters in opposition to the bill.

This might make sense — if independents were enamored of public employees’ unions and against school reform. But they aren’t, and its the sort of thing that will make Crist unpopular with everyone but the teachers’ union, which will no doubt support the Democrat in the general election anyway. No wonder Crist’s campaign chairman quit. It was the type of move for which Crist has now become infamous — combining bad politics with bad policy.

Moreover, Crist managed to infuriate popular ex-governor Jeb Bush, who’s as yet not made an official endorsement in the race. But his statement lashing out at Crist’s veto is the sort of thing Marco Rubio will be putting in his campaign ads:

I am disappointed by the veto of Senate Bill 6. … By taking this action, Governor Crist has jeopardized the ability of Florida to build on the progress of the last decade, which includes raising student achievement across the board, narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students, and improving graduation rates. Florida’s sustained improvement is the result of bold reforms that were challenging, controversial and sometimes even unpopular. Reform is hard work but without a commitment to change, Florida would not be 8th in the nation today.

All in all, it was a harebrained move by a politician who has demonstrated why it is a very good thing to have contested primaries: voters can figure out who’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Charlie Crist is apparently throwing in the towel on the Republican primary — and what remains of his political future. Politico reports:

Florida GOP Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a Republican-supported teacher pay bill Thursday, a move that heightened speculation that he is considering waging an independent bid for Senate.

The contentious bill, which would have linked teacher pay to student test results, carried the backing of prominent Republican legislators and had been promoted by popular former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, who championed the measure through his foundation in TV ads.The legislation was loudly opposed by teachers’ unions, who flooded Crist’s office with letters in opposition to the bill.

This might make sense — if independents were enamored of public employees’ unions and against school reform. But they aren’t, and its the sort of thing that will make Crist unpopular with everyone but the teachers’ union, which will no doubt support the Democrat in the general election anyway. No wonder Crist’s campaign chairman quit. It was the type of move for which Crist has now become infamous — combining bad politics with bad policy.

Moreover, Crist managed to infuriate popular ex-governor Jeb Bush, who’s as yet not made an official endorsement in the race. But his statement lashing out at Crist’s veto is the sort of thing Marco Rubio will be putting in his campaign ads:

I am disappointed by the veto of Senate Bill 6. … By taking this action, Governor Crist has jeopardized the ability of Florida to build on the progress of the last decade, which includes raising student achievement across the board, narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students, and improving graduation rates. Florida’s sustained improvement is the result of bold reforms that were challenging, controversial and sometimes even unpopular. Reform is hard work but without a commitment to change, Florida would not be 8th in the nation today.

All in all, it was a harebrained move by a politician who has demonstrated why it is a very good thing to have contested primaries: voters can figure out who’s a disaster waiting to happen.

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Answering William Galston

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Read Less




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