Craig Shirley

Maybe when he speaks, Governor Bush can explain why several years ago he advised the GOP to get over Reagan “nostalgia.” More recently, he made the harebrained claim that Reagan could not now win the nomination because the GOP had become too “rightwing.” I beg your pardon, Jeb, but since Reagan, the GOP has nominated two Bushes, a Dole, a McCain and a Romney – all men considerably to the Left of Ronald Reagan.

Jeb Bush might also explain his call this week for even higher taxes on the American worker.

What might be galling for many conservatives is that the Bushes habitually rebuffed speaking opportunities at CPAC. George H. W. Bush only spoke once as VP and then never came as president. George W. Bush appeared as a private citizen but did not attend as president until 2008, when his approval rating was in the low 20’s and he was desperate for an appreciative audience.

Jeb Bush routinely turned down invitations while governor of Florida. Now, the world of Republicanism and conservatism is filled with hidden agendas and personal animosities and some of this may have factored in to decisions to bypass CPAC. But for moderates, the personal trumps the philosophical. Being invited to join Skull and Bones is about who you know and not what you think.

On the other hand, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell just shoved through the largest tax increase in the history of the Commonwealth, essentially a sop to developers and contractors, and yet he is speaking at a Ralph Reed-sponsored event at CPAC. So what makes N.J. Governor Chris Christie so special that he is not invited this year – but McDonnell is?

Indeed, a better case can be made for Christie speaking at CPAC than can be made for Jeb Bush. Then again, a better case can be made for Christie speaking at CPAC than Mitt Romney. Christie has been far more conservative as governor of New Jersey than Romney was as governor of Massachusetts. But Romney and Bush were invited while Christie was not.

Christie, wisely, did not take the bait the other day when asked about the CPAC snub and, with class, simply sloughed it off.

Is it that Christie is not a member of the Republican establishment, that he is his own man, refusing to pay tribute to the insiders?

Some of the conservative movement and all of the Republican Party have lost its intellectual moorings. Some think Bushism is conservatism. Some think worshipping the Pentagon is conservatism. Some think invading Nova Scotia is conservatism. Some think whatever they hear on some cable show is conservatism.

Another member of the Bush clan, speechwriter Michael Gerson, has also advised the GOP to get over Reagan “nostalgia,” and yet a true son of Reaganism, Mark Levin, has not been invited to speak at CPAC. The suspicion among many is Levin has been tough on the GOP establishment and so he too is being punished.

Ironically, the answer to what ails American conservatism and the Republican Party might be found in a speech Reagan gave at CPAC in 1977, when the Republican Party was again in the wilderness, even as conservative ideas were ascending.

Reagan rejected the “country club … corporate board room” Republicanism of Bushism and others. “Our party must be the party of the individual … Each one of us can maintain his dignity and his identity in an increasingly complex, centralized society.”

He continued: “Extreme taxation, excessive controls, oppressive government … frustrated minorities, and forgotten Americans are not the products of free enterprise. They are the residue of centralized bureaucracy, of government by a self-anointed elite.” Even 36 years later, the Gipper’s words ring true. This is not nostalgia – it is wisdom.

Federalist #48 warned against the “encroaching nature” of government but presumably Mr. Gerson and Mr. Bush would dismiss any reverence for Hamilton, Jay or Madison as misplaced “nostalgia.”

The future of American conservatism lies in the past. It’s not nostalgic to be alarmed about unwarranted concentrations of power. This fight is as old as time and as relevant as today.

In the final analysis, as a culture and a governing philosophy, Bushism is more akin to Obamaism than it is to Reaganism.

Craig Shirley

Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer, a presidential historian and Chairman of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. His firm is assisting Scott Walker’s presidential campaign.