Jeb Bush’s complaint

Having lately been buffeted about by news cycle after the news cycle, the Democrats must have felt in desperate need for a talking point with which to change the subject. They found it, more or less, in Jeb Bush’s remarks about the difficulty Ronald Reagan allegedly would have faced in being nominated by today’s Republican Party. As I argued here, there is no basis for believing that Reagan actually would have any such difficulty.

Bush then clarified his remarks by saying he’s concerned that neither Republicans nor Democrats are willing to compromise on Capitol Hill these days. Bush thus voiced a concern that one also hears from other veteran Republican insiders.

The worry is that the nation will soon need to take drastic action to bring down the debt, but that Republicans are unlikely soon to obtain the 60 Senate votes necessary to impose a debt reduction plan over unified Democratic opposition. Hence, the need for willingness to compromise

It’s a plausible concern. No reasonable person wants to see the U.S. ruined by debt because the two parties can’t reach agreement. And any reasonable person can foresee the possibility of such a train wreck if one party (or both) is unwilling to compromise at all.

But it makes no sense for Republicans to compromise from their current position of weakness, i.e., with control of only the House, given that their position may improve substantially after November. Rather, the sensible approach is to try to bring in reinforcements and then consider the options.

Bush invokes the memory of Reagan. But I don’t recall Reagan talking about compromise when he ran for president in 1980, at a time when the Democrats held the White House and controlled both chambers of Congress. After Reagan won, and his Party gained control of the Senate, Reagan eventually was willing to deal. But he did so largely on his terms.

But shouldn’t Republicans at least tamp down the bellicose rhetoric of non-compromise? I don’t think so. Taking a soft line will only make it more difficult to successfully engage in hardball negotiations when the time for truly serious negotiating arrives. Better for Republicans to signal to the Democrats that they will drive a hard bargain. Better to signal to loyalists in the base that they will fight hard for conservative principles.

It’s possible, of course, that when the moment of truth arrives, Republicans will be as totally unyielding as many of them sound now. This seems unlikely, but if it happens that will be the time to complain that the Party isn’t following Reagan’s example.