No, Jeb, the Tea Party Would Not Have Rejected Ronald Reagan

One of the memes we’ve been hearing from the GOP Establishment of late is that the Tea Party is too extreme and that even Ronald Reagan wouldn’t be able to get nominated by today’s right-wing GOP. The most recent purveyor of this “Reagan would be too moderate” nonsense is Jeb Bush:

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.”

I read this drivel on Monday and my immediate reaction was that Bush was partially right, but mostly wrong. The only thing he got correct was the part about his father, who famously referred to Reagan’s economic policies — that would be the policies that gave us the Reagan boom in the 1980s — as “voodoo economics”. George H.W. Bush may well have trouble getting nominated today, although even that is questionable since the GOP, in their infinite wisdom, is poised to nominate a guy who thinks health care mandates and minimum wage indexation are good ideas.

That aside, when George H. W. Bush assumed the presidency in 1989, he veered sharply leftward from Reagan’s policies, and his brand of squishy, moderate conservatism has dominated the party at the presidential level ever since. The “budget deal” to which Jeb Bush glowingly refers was the infamous tax increase his dad negotiated with George Mitchell which reversed Reagan’s 1986 tax simplification plan and cost the elder Bush the 1992 election. Is that really the paradigm Jeb Bush wants the GOP to follow? Reagan instinctively understood that eschewing principles in the name of moderation and accommodation was no way to lead, and inevitably results in defeat. Bush and those since him never understood this.

Post Ronald Reagan, the Republican standard bearers have been, in order, as follows: Bush 41, Bush 41, Bob Dole, Bush 43, Bush 43, John McCain, and now, horrifyingly, Mandate Mitt. Is Jeb Bush seriously suggesting that the party which nominated these characters for the past quarter century is somehow given to right-wing extremism? What’s the evidence? Which of the above candidates is extreme or, for that matter, conservative? Although they all pretended to be Reaganites when it suited them, they were more than happy to throw Reagan under the bus when they perceived that it didn’t:

I simply can’t reconcile history with Jeb Bush’s attempt to equate his father with Reagan. That’s an absurd comparison. Bush won the presidency in 1988 because voters thought they were getting a third Reagan term. When it became clear they got Nelson Rockefeller instead, they fired him. Reagan took on the GOP Establishment in 1976 and 1980. Bush was part of that very establishment. One could easily make the argument that the Tea Party insurrection within today’s Republican Party had its antecedents in the Reagan insurrection within the Republican Party of the late 1970s, a party dominated by the same patrician moderates who dominate, at least at the upper levels, today.

Last night on Fox News Channel, Bill O’Reilly asked Charles Krauthammer about Jeb Bush’s comments, and he made some of the same points:

“His problem is that he was equating his father with Ronald Reagan,” Charles Krauthammer said about Jeb Bush criticizing the Republican party. “His father was a very good president. History will smile upon him but he was no Reagan. His father was a moderate Republican, a moderate conservative.”

“Reagan was a movement conservative, a leader of the movement. You would call him rigid. He was called worse than that in those eight years. Rigidity is a virtue. Today we use the word ideology as a pejorative. I think it needs to be resurrected. An ideology means a coherent set of ideas and policies, and Reagan had them, and he pursued them. And I think he would be very comfortable today with the Tea Party and the Republican party,” Krauthammer said.

“In fact, I think he would say, as Paul Ryan said after the 2010 election, where you have got a radical change in direction of the Republican party, Paul Ryan said we had lost our way. We had entertained this kind of moderate conservatism as his father, the Bush father, said kinder and gentler, as George W. Bush said compassionate conservatism. That was a variation they did. But I think the Republicans have spoken that was not the way to go and this is a return to Reaganism.”

Reagan would have been embraced by today’s Tea Party movement in the same way Governor Palin is. They’re of the same ilk. Both Reagan in his time, and Governor Palin now, made it their mission to return the Republican Party to its limited government, constitutional roots. Reagan fought the powers that be then just as Governor Palin is doing so today. Both were looked on with disdain by that establishment and called everything from polarizing to dumb to extreme. They were (and are) nothing of the sort, of course, but since the Establishment can’t discredit the message, their only choice is to discredit the messenger by any means necessary. “Voo-doo economics”, for example. When Jeb Bush attempts to equate his father with the Ronald Reagan he ridiculed, he’s either ignorant of history … or purposely distorting it. I don’t think Jeb Bush is ignorant.

Click below to watch Krauthammer’s comments:

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