Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said today that both Ronald Reagan and his father George H. W. Bush would have had a difficult time getting nominated by today's ultra-conservative Republican Party.
"Ronald 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 — and I don’t — as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground," Bush said, adding that he views the hyper-partisan moment as "temporary."
"Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time – they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan suport," he said. Reagan "would be criticized for doing the things that he did."
Bush cited, in particular, "the budget deal my dad did, with bipartisan support — at least for a while — that created the spending restraint of the ‘90s," a reference to a move widely viewed now as a political disaster for Bush, breaking a pledge against tax increases and infuriating conservatives. It was, Bush said, "helpful in creating a climate of more sustainted economic growth."
"Politically it clearly didn't work out — he was a one term president," his son said.
Bush called the present partisan climate "disturbing."
"It’s just a different environment left and right," he said of "this dysfunction."
And Bush also blamed President Obama for much of the conflict.
"His first year could have been a year of enormous accomplishment had he focused on things where there was more common ground," he said, arguing that Obama had made a "purely political calculation" to run a sharply partisan administration.
His remarks to a group of reporters and editors at the headquarters of Bloomberg LP in Manhattan were the latest in a series of concerns Bush, one of the best-respected figures in his party, has raised about its current direction. Other Republicans, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, have suggested that this GOP wouldn't nominate Reagan, who raised taxes and made grand bargains with Democrats on immigration and fiscal issues. Bush also repeated criticism of the "tone" of the discussion of immigration issues.
Bush said that Mitt Romney's move to channel Republicans' anger over immigration in the primary has put him "in somewhat of a box" in the general election. He advised Romney to offer a "broader and more intense" approach to the issue. He suggested Romney continue to campaign in Hispanic communities, that he recast immigration as an economic issue, and that he focus on the question of education.
"I do feel a little out of step with my party on this," he said.
Bush also had praise for Rep. Paul Ryan for proposing a budget and disdain for Democrats for refusing to engage it.
"It’s all about talking points rather than engagement," he said of Congressional hearings on the Ryan budget, during one of which, he said, he was grilled by Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC Chairwoman.
"She clearly doesn’t like me — not from Washington, from past battles," he said.
Bush said he finds reason for optimism in statehouses, and cited two governors as particular models: Indiana Republican Mitch Daniels and Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper.
Bush did offer Obama one point of agreement: That the economic "headwinds" the president has been mocked for citing are real.
"We’ve got major headwinds with Europe and the slowdown in Asia as well," Bush said, predicting weak economic growth in the short term.
But Bush sounded a remarkably gloomy note about the present moment: "We’re in very difficul times," he said. "We’re in decline."