Jeb Bush is a sensible guy with an outstanding record as Governor of Florida. And I have no problem with him çlaiming that the current political climate is excessively partisan, particularly since he places much of the blame for this on President Obama. As Bush says, “[Obama’s] first year could have been a year of enormous accomplishment had he focused on things where there was more common ground,” but instead Obama made a “purely political calculation” to run a sharply partisan administration.
But Bush vastly overstates his case when he claims that Ronald Reagan would find it difficult to be nominated by today’s Republican party. It’s a claim that Mike Huckabee has also self-servingly made. Huckabee resents being criticized for raising taxes as governor.
Whatever its source, the notion that Reagan would have difficulty being nominated today is laughable. The Republican party is about to nominate Mitt Romney, whose offenses against conservative orthodoxy outweigh any that Reagan had committed when he won the nomination in 1980, and any that he committed thereafter judged even by today’s standards. Romney’s opponents plausibly called him a Massachusetts moderate. Anyone who called Reagan a California moderate would have been laughed out of the campaign, and not just for a poor sense of alliteration.
Bush says that Reagan’s “record of finding accommodation” and “some degree of common ground” with Democrats would have made his nomination difficult. Presumably, he’s referring to what Reagan did as president, and to the likelihood that, today, he would be renominated.
We don’t know what the current Republican climate means for renomination. At last check, in 2004, the orthodoxy bar wasn’t high. And since that bar also wasn’t high for nomination in 2008 or 2012, there’s little reason to fear that Reagan would struggle to be renominated these days. In all likelihood, the standard for renomination in the Republican party today is the same as it’s always been — a first term that’s perceived as successful enough to make re-election likely.
Reagan passed that test as easily as any president in our history. We need not worry about how he would fare in today’s Republican party.