Why Jeb Bush is pulling a Bill Clinton on Mitt Romney: 4 theories

The Week

The former governor criticizes the GOP for being too extreme, joining the Big Dog as the latest party elder to undercut a presidential candidate's message

This week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — the brother and son of former presidents, and a potential presidential contender himself — created a headache for his party, arguing that his father and Ronald Reagan would have had a hard time fitting into today's GOP, which eagerly punishes those who go against party orthodoxy. Bush was particularly critical of the GOP's increasingly tough anti-immigration stance and its unyielding refusal to raise taxes — party-line positions that have been wholly embraced by presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney. (Bush later insisted that he was criticizing both Democrats and Republicans for being too partisan.) Of course, Bush is not the first member of a political royal family to undercut his candidate's message: Earlier this month, Bill Clinton appeared to stray when he called for a temporary extension of tax cuts for the wealthy, which Obama opposes. Here, four reasons Bush seems to be following Clinton off the reservation:

1. Jeb wants to save the GOP from itself
Bush is "on a quest to push his party away from the political extreme," says Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. He senses that the GOP is sacrificing political ground to the Democrats on important issues like immigration and the budget. The "GOP brand has been bad for a while" — about 40 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP, while only 25 percent approve of Republicans in Congress. Bush's remarks might be a thorn in Romney's side, but the GOP candidate might benefit from listening to Jeb's critique. 

2. Bush is setting up a 2016 presidential run
"Bush is clearly engaged in an effort to position himself as the next leader of the Republican Party," says Jonathan Chait at New York. If Romney loses in the fall, the GOP "will recognize that its harsh partisan rhetoric turned off voters, and will urgently want to woo Latinos," a demographic that is "growing in size and seems to be tilting every more strongly toward the Democrats." Bush is "setting himself as the cure" in case Romney blows it in November. 

3. Jeb is defending his family's political legacy
Bush's remarks reflect "the growing drift of the party's base from the Bush family," which conservatives have criticized for selling out the party's principles, says Jim Rutenberg at The New York Times. George W.'s big domestic achievements — from the expansion of Medicare to No Child Left Behind — were bipartisan efforts that have been assailed by Romney and other Republicans as models of big-government conservatism. Jeb even praised his father's 1990 deficit-reduction deal, in which George H.W. famously broke his "no new taxes" pledge and earned himself the dreaded epithet of a RINO (Republican in Name Only). 

4. Bush is taking on the ideology police
Bush was especially critical of Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist who has gotten an "astounding 95 percent of elected Republicans" to sign a pledge to oppose "any and all" tax increases, says Ana Marie Cox at Britain's The Guardian. The power of Norquist, conservative super PACs, and other members of the "outside ideology police" has made it impossible for elected Republicans to compromise on key issues, shattering "the illusion of a relationship between the goals of the party and the goals of most Americans." And without some kind of pushback, the ideology police will end up running the party. 

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

View this article on TheWeek.com Get 4 Free Issues of The Week

Other stories from this topic:

Like on Facebook - Follow on Twitter - Sign-up for Daily Newsletter
View Comments (139)