Jeb Bush’s failure in the Republican Party’s presidential nominating contest does not just reflect poorly on the man’s political skills; it is an indictment of what his party has become.
The obituaries of Bush’s ill-fated campaign had already been written before the brother and son of former presidents got less than 8 percent support in South Carolina on Saturday and pulled the plug that very night. He had governing experience when voters wanted someone to shake up Washington DC; he was the establishment favorite when voters wanted an outsider; he was reasonable and soft-spoken when voters preferred a loudmouth.
None of which seems wrong. But just how did it happen that one of the two biggest political parties in the world’s most powerful democracy would rather elect a demagogue like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump than the former governor of a swing state with a very conservative record?
Stab in the back
Mona Charen, a conservative columnist, blames right-wing opinionmakers who “have ceaselessly promoted the false narrative that the Republican ‘grassroots’ have been betrayed by the Republican leadership in Washington.”
Rather than aim their anger (or try to reduce it?) at Barack Obama and the Democrats, many rightwingers instead maintain that Republicans in Congress have given the president “everything he wanted.”
“There has been a flavor of ‘stabbed in the back’ to these accusations,” writes Charen.
If not for the treachery of the Republican Party, they claim, a party too timorous or too corrupt to stand up to Obama, we could have defunded Obamacare, balanced the budget, halted the Iran deal, you name it.
This, of course, ignores the political reality. Obama would have vetoed any attempt to reverse the health reforms that carry his name while there is little Congress can do to influence a president’s foreign policy.
Nevertheless, elected Republicans have been playing along — and not just the likes of Ted Cruz.
The whole party, Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein has argued, keeps telling its voters to trust in easy solutions and believe that the normal frustrations of politics are the product of villains, collaborators and fellow travelers.
And, of course, they succeeded in convincing many Republican voters that any conservative politician who engages in the norms of democratic compromise is a traitor to the cause.
Such “traitors” have largely been driven out of the House of Representatives. Almost 60 percent of the lower chamber’s Republicans were elected in or after 2010, the year the reactionary “Tea Party” movement rode to success.
John Boehner, the establishment-minded speaker of the House, was toppled in 2015.
Some, including Boehner’s successor, Paul Ryan, are starting to push back against the purists.
Ryan plainly told his members earlier this month that they shouldn’t promise to repeal Obamacare “when a guy with the last name Obama is president.”
“All that does is set us up for failure and disappointment and recriminations,” he said.
Ryan’s intervention may be too little, too late, though. Cruz and Trump between them are supported by more than half the Republican electorate nationwide. Bush is out; John Kasich, the other pragmatist in the race, is mired in single digits. The party establishment now pins its hopes on Marco Rubio, a first-term senator who came out of the Tea Party.
It rather seems Republicans may need to suffer another presidential election defeat before they can come to their senses.