U.S. political parties are rarely thrilled when their high-profile members veer off-message during election years; recently, Bill Clinton’s talk of a recession embarrassed the Democrats. But Jeb Bush has done his fellow Republicans a service with a timely and well-needed call for moderation, and a sharp reminder of how far their party has strayed from it.
At a breakfast with reporters this week, the former Florida governor suggested that both his father, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan would have a "hard time" fitting into the current version of the G.O.P., and would struggle with "an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement." This was particularly controversial when it came to Mr. Reagan, an iconic two-term president frequently cited by modern Republicans as an inspiration. But it had the ring of truth to it, considering how far their party has strayed from Mr. Reagan’s big-tent approach, as it has lurched toward a form of conservative populism.
This is particularly true in the case of immigration policy, which is reportedly highest among Mr. Bush’s concerns about his party’s direction. His brother, George W. Bush, attempted during his time as president to balance off tougher border security and enforcement measures by providing legal status to millions of immigrants working illegally in the United States, and he rarely suffered from perceptions that he was too liberal. By contrast, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, appeared earlier this year to endorse the controversial Arizona law that encourages police to check the identification of anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant.
Mr. Romney’s positions during his time as governor of Massachusetts, on matters ranging from health care to tax policy to abortion, have led many to believe that he himself is inclined toward moderation. But in order to win the Republican nomination, and to motivate the party’s base, he has evidently felt compelled to adopt much harder lines.
As Mr. Romney seeks to broaden his appeal, he would do well to heed Mr. Bush’s advice. For a party that wants to win power, and maintain it, a big tent is still worth building.