Jeb Bush talks lately like a man history has passed by. That is, he's trying to get history's attention. The former Florida governor, once thought likely to be the second member of his family to become President before his erratic older brother jumped ahead of him, believes that he could beat Barack Obama this year, but he also seems to believe that he could not have gotten the Republican presidential nomination he no doubt considers necessary to topple the incumbent. He's done his duty to the party by endorsing Mitt Romney, but he told Bloomberg News that there was something wrong with the political climate, something that would have made it difficult for his father to have gotten a Republican nod today -- not that it was easy for the old man in reality. Unintentionally echoing a popular Democratic talking point, Bush said that even Ronald Reagan would have trouble in the GOP primaries because of his willingness to seek bipartisan support for his measures. Or at least that's what Bush seemed to say. He told the Bloomberg people that Reagan and his father "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." You could almost mistake this for a denial of the false charge that Republicans don't tolerate disagreement. But Bush appears actually to be contesting the definition of the Republican party. He would not define it as an intolerant orthodoxy, but the implication of his remarks is that many Republicans do define it that way, even though they shouldn't.
In the Bloomberg interview Bush sounds more like a centrist than an "orthodox" Republican. Despite endorsing Romney, he criticizes the nominee-apparent for taking positions on immigration during the primary campaign that put him in "somewhat of a box" when it comes to appealing to Hispanic voters in the general campaign. The Bushes pride themselves on their outreach to Hispanics, at least on the rhetorical level, and Jeb is probably well aware that this, as much as his occasional appeals to bipartisanship, makes him persona non grata with the GOP base -- the people who probably think I just wrote something in Spanish to insult them and who scold Bush in the comments section of the Bloomberg page. Bush acts as if he were auditioning for Thomas Friedman in his endorsement of Friedman's holy grail, the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. He echoes Friedman's criticism of Obama for failing to support Simpson-Bowles for nebulous "political reasons." Such statements are likely to confirm many Democrats' belief that if Simpson-Bowles sets the standard for centrism, then centrism be damned. But Bush may be reading Friedman too much for his own good, to the point where he believes in a constituency for the sort of "radical centrism" that Friedman espouses, the advocates of a "wise austerity" who deplores Republican base intractability and its whiff of hatred while hoping that their own more sensitive attitude and their lip service to "shared sacrifice" will soften the blow of austerity wherever it falls. Maybe Jeb Bush is the candidate Friedman's been looking for all along, the would-be wise man who doesn't see himself having a shot within his party, but with a pedigree that would make him instantly plausible, it's sad to say, as a third-party candidate. Why not build a movement to persuade Jeb to reassert his family's noblesse oblige and reclaim their birthright -- the White House. I've even thought of a name for such a movement -- but I gave it away in the headline.