I should begin by offering praise to two gentlemen I am asking to stay out of the 2016 Republican presidential race.
There is a long list of people I admire whom I do not wish to see in the GOP field. Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are two of them.
Governor Romney has been enjoying enthusiastic and deserved warmth as he campaigns in various states to help the party regain U.S. Senate control. Audiences know that many of the things he said on the campaign trail in 2012 look better in the rear-view mirror than the actual governance of the incumbent who beat him. It is natural to show some appreciation to a man who stood for so many good things in an honorable White House bid.
But anyone planning a Romney re-do should know that broad appreciation for him on the 2014 trail in no way signals a wave of enthusiasm to see him again on his own campaign bus next year.
Mitt Romney is a good man, a good American and a good Republican. But there are two disqualifiers: inconsistent conservatism and the curse of his own private-sector success.
The willingness to foist a state-level version of Obamacare on the people of Massachusetts is a stain that does not go away so soon. What to do about the scourge of Obamacare is a major test for any proper 2016 candidate. Time does not change Romney’s inability to argue against big-government health care nationally when he favored it locally.
Time also does not erase his place in the stratosphere of Wall Street success stories. This should not be a handicap, but it is. An America repelled by Wall Street excesses in 2012 was in no mood to be led by someone who had ridden the rocket of high finance. That was unfair then, and it is unfair now. Wise navigation of the business world is actually an attribute that should reflect well on a presidential hopeful.
But as our fathers told us, life is unfair. Ann Romney recently said she is “done” with the idea of her husband teeing it up again for 2016. Her husband should know she has a lot of company in that sentiment. Not out of disrespect or lack of appreciation; the urgency of 2016 is fueled by a pressing need for an unapologetic, consistent conservative with no biographical obstacles. I hope our nominee has Mitt Romney’s sunny demeanor and ample communications skills, but it must be fused to a demonstrable passion for the kind of muscular, unwavering conservatism on all fronts— social, fiscal and foreign policy— that will be needed to mend the wounds of eight years of Barack Obama.
That pressing need is the instant barrier to any argument for President Jeb Bush. But before the medicinal truth, a spoonful of gratitude. George H.W. Bush’s second son is a shining example of his inspiring family— a fine American and a talented leader who served Florida well as one of its better Governors.
But the 2016 qualifications list is drawn far more broadly. After the well-meaning but underwhelming campaigns of Romney and John McCain, Republicans are eager to be inspired and energized, and are in no mood to waste time probing the swiss-cheese holes of a nominee’s suspect conservatism.
We will be told often that the Jeb Bush record as Governor is enviable. But that does not always translate to a full set of White House credentials when examined through a lens of devotion to smaller government and greater liberty.
Two of the most valuable touchstones of fidelity to the nation’s founding principles are a commitment to harnessing government expansion and a refusal to allow the nationalization of decisions that belong to the states.
This means not one whiff of tax increases or Common Core. Sadly, John Ellis Bush has revealed a taste for both.
Common Core’s educational aims are irrelevant. By its very nature it is a usurpation of decision-making that should be made from state to state with no interference from Washington or sugar-coated federally orchestrated public-private partnerships.
As for taxes, one wonders if the son has spent much time reminiscing with the father about how conservatives feel about taxes. It was a much smaller government that the elder Bush pledged not to enlarge with the doomed “no new taxes” pledge of a quarter-century ago. To even consider tax increases after the pillaging of the Obama years is a deal-breaker, even if coupled with spending cuts as Jeb has discussed.
The Republican party has not had a truly Reaganesque nominee since Reagan. There will never be another Gipper, so a search for a clone is fruitless. But we can surely seek as many of his attributes as we can find in a single standardbearer, setting the bar high in a 2016 election that may feature a showdown against Hillary Clinton, who will attract her share of voters seeking to make more infernal “history” without regard to her actual track record or agenda.
Whether she runs or not, we cannot afford another nominee who fails to energize the base. We do not need candidates tap-dancing on debate stages trying to convince primary voters of their conservative spines and hearts when their words and behaviors indicate otherwise.
The path toward a fruitful 2016 field will be filled with evaluations of the kind of candidates we wish to see on the trail toward Iowa and New Hampshire, which are a scant fifteen months away. A good start to that process involves some tough love— a strong and decisive message to those we would like to see sit it out.