Readers with long memories may remember when Jeb Bush was every bit the assumed Republican nominee as Hillary Clinton was the Democrat. Of course, that was before an asteroid collided with the Earth, throwing us into an alternate timeline where Donald Trump (!) dropped in from Manhattan, obliterated every Republican from here to Texas, destroyed Clinton, and became the 45th president of the United States. In this timeline, Bush went from the heir apparent to the throne to the laughingstock of the GOP overnight.
Now Jeb’s back with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, where he ponders the future of the Republican Party. And what you take away from his essay will depend on where you stand on Jeb himself. You like him? Wish he had been the nominee? You’ll appreciate portions like this:
For the GOP to build on its victory, Republicans have to recognize that we’re still in a divided country—which incidentally gave Mrs. Clinton roughly two million more votes than Mr. Trump. Republicans need to do more than oppose things. We have to be for a few big ideas and show that we can put them into action.
The GOP has no excuse for failure. We are in charge of both the executive and legislative branches in Washington, and we dominate in the states like never before. We have the power to set the agenda, and we have the responsibility to govern, not merely on behalf of the voters who supported President-elect Trump, but for all Americans.
For Trump supporters who nonetheless are fond of the Bush dynasty and have reservations about The Donald’s commitment to conservatism, Jeb’s policy proposals will seem comforting. He advocates for getting rid of Obamacare, reducing federal regulations, setting term limits, and putting a balanced budget clause in the Constitution.
But for those who saw Trump as a welcome repudiation of Bush-style “compassionate conservatism,” there’s no ignoring Jeb’s faint shots at the president-elect.
“We must make it clear that there is no room in our tent for despicable bigotries like racism, misogyny or anti-Semitism,” he writes. “I pray [Trump] governs inclusively, with humility and with purpose. I pray that he will be led by a deep love of this nation and each of its citizens, regardless of background or ZIP Code.”
Obviously, we all agree, but are comments like this helpful when it comes to unifying the Republican Party? If you have something to say, then say it. Say it specifically. Don’t insinuate that Trump has courted those “despicable bigotries.”
Jeb had a front row seat when liberals where trashing his brother as a racist after Hurricane Katrina, so he should be acutely aware of how quickly a media narrative can become the truth, even when there’s thin evidence to support it.
Jeb is a good guy, and he was a terrific governor in Florida. He and his family can still be relevant in today’s Republican Party, but they have to acknowledge that it isn’t “their” party anymore. Love it or hate it, the winds have shifted.
That doesn’t mean that conservatism has been replaced by Trumpism or that Jeb needs to come out in favor of the wall. It simply means that there’s a time for talking and a time for silence. In these transitional days, the president-elect deserves some space and support from both rivals and friends. If Obama can resist taking shots at Trump right now, then it shouldn’t be too hard for Jeb Bush to do the same.