Jeb Bush Takes Aim at Fellow Republicans

Jim Rutenberg|The New York Times

Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said his father, George Bush, and Ronald Reagan would find themselves out of step with today’s Republican Party because of its strict adherence to ideology and the intensity of modern partisan warfare.

Jeb Bush
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“Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, similar to my dad, they would have had a hard time if you define the Republican Party — and I don’t — as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement,” Mr. Bush said at question-and-answer session with reporters and editors is held Monday morning in Manhattan by Bloomberg View.

“Back to my dad’s time or Ronald Reagan’s time,” he said, “they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support that right now would be difficult to imagine happening.”

Mr. Bush’s comments help solidify his role as the Republican Party’s leading voice of moderation at a time when many in the party — particularly Tea Party adherents — are calling for ever-greater ideological discipline. And he continued a trend this campaign cycle of big-name presidential endorsers going off script from the campaigns they support. Mr. Bush has endorsed Mitt candidacy.

Mr. Bush was careful to emphasize that he believed the modern-day Democratic Party was equally dug in on ideological and partisan grounds, saying, “this dysfunction, you can’t say it’s one side or another.” And he said President had failed to live up to his promise to be a transcendent leader, specifically pointing to failure to embrace the advice of the bipartisan deficit panel he created, known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

“It was purely a political calculation,” he said. “He created Simpson-Bowles and then abandoned it at birth.”

Mr. Bush stood by his assertion that he would accept a hypothetical deal — which all of the major Republican candidates including Mr. Romney rejected when asked about it during a debate on the Fox News Channel last year — that would allow $1 of revenue increases for every $10 in spending cuts. And, when asked to point to a moment of political courage of the sort he said Mr. Obama had not produced, he pointed positively to the budget deal his father struck in 1990, which included tax increases in spite of the elder Bush’s “read my lips, no new taxes” campaign pledge.

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The deal angered many Republicans and is viewed as contributing to George Bush’s re-election loss in 1992, but Jeb Bush said “that created the spending restraint of the 1990s; more than anything else that was helpful in creating a climate for sustained economic growth.”

“He didn’t win,” he added, “but at least he did it.”

Mr. Bush said he also hoped his party would improve its performance on immigration.

He said that Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, needed a different tone when it came to reaching out to Hispanic voters and should make immigration more of an economic issue than a legal one.

“Don’t just talk about Hispanics and say immediately we must have controlled borders,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s kind of insulting when you think about it. Change the tone would be the first thing. Second, on immigration, I think we need to have a broader approach.”

Mr. Bush added, “I do feel a little out of step with my party on this.”

He also said that he doubted any president — no matter who is in office — could do much to improve the economy given the problems elsewhere. “I think we’re in a period here for the next year of pretty slow growth; I don’t see how we get out, notwithstanding who’s president,” he said. “We’ve got major headwinds with Europe and a slow down for Asia as well.”

Republican leaders have accused Mr. Obama of playing a “blame game” for saying the European economic crisis was causing “headwinds” that is undermining the recovery at home.