There was an enormous amount of interest in former President Bill Clinton's kinda sorta off-message comments recently, but just as interesting are the recent comments of one of Mitt Romney's highest-profile supporters: Jeb Bush.
Last week, for example, the former Florida governor praised President Obama on education policy, hot on the heels of Romney delivering a speech condemning Obama's education policy. Bush also said his party is being "short-sighted" on tax and immigration policies, which is not what the GOP mainstream wants to hear.
This morning, Jeb Bush went further, endorsing Obama's line about economic "headwinds" from Europe, and agreeing with Obama's recent argument that both Ronald Reagan and his father George H. W. Bush would have a hard time getting nominated by today's 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 support," he said. Reagan "would be criticized for doing the things that he did."
It's a stretch to suggest that Jeb Bush is somehow becoming more moderate, or even sensible. This morning, he also praised Paul Ryan's radical budget plan, for example, and blamed Obama for Washington dysfunction, condemning the president for pursuing "partisan" policies in his first year, rather than "common ground." (In his first year, Obama pushed Mitt Romney's health care plan, John McCain's climate plan, and a stimulus with massive tax breaks. Partisan? Please.)
But those comments don't change the overall message Bush has offered over the last week, which is clearly at odds with what Romney and his campaign have been saying.
The line about Reagan this morning was of particular interest, because it's a growing meme.
Just a few weeks ago, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said Reagan "would be stunned by the party today," adding that there were similar divisions in the early 1950s between Eisenhower Republicans and GOP extremists like Joe McCarthy, but the difference is, in 2012, "the extremists are winning."
In April, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) said the same thing. What's more, Mike Huckabee said a year ago, "Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time being nominated in this atmosphere of the Republican Party." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a nearly identical take in 2010, arguing Reagan "would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today."
I continue to believe this matters.
As we discussed a while back, Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times, and he supported the precursor to the Buffett Rule. In his first term, Reagan raised taxes when unemployment was nearing 11% -- imagine trying this today -- and proceeded to raise taxes seven out of the eight years he was in office. It's a fact the right finds terribly inconvenient, but "no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people" as Reagan.
Reagan gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants, expanded the size of the federal government, tripled the deficit and added trillions to the debt, bailed out domestic industries, and called for a world without nuclear weapons. Reagan also met with our most hated enemy without preconditions, criticized Israel, and illegally funneled arms to Iran.
And then there's his gubernatorial record: in California, Reagan increased spending, raised taxes, helped create the nation's first state-based emissions standards, signed an abortion-rights bill, and expanded the nation's largest state-based Medicaid program (socialized medicine).
Reagan "could not get through a Republican primary today"? Reagan could not get through a Republican primary without being laughed off the stage today.
Why is this relevant today? For one thing, it's at least interesting to appreciate the fact that Republicans have a religious-like reverence for Reagan, they have no use for his approach to governance. For another, it should tell the American mainstream something important when the GOP moves so far to the ideological extreme that it's no longer the Party of Reagan.
And finally, there's the small matter of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush's ally, having said the exact opposite, making the former Florida governor another surrogate who isn't sticking to Boston's script.