Amid the spectacle of 2016 GOP presidential candidates Twitter trolling and stumbling over one another to out-firebrand the field, Florida’s Jeb Bush is attempting to stand out among the crowd by playing the part of the adult in the room. What’s more, according to Joe Klein in Time — it’s working:
In a week during which Rudolph Giuliani went crusader-ballistic questioning President Obama’s patriotism – indeed, questioning his upbringing – Jeb Bush gave a speech about foreign affairs, the third serious policy speech he’s given this winter. Giuliani got all the headlines, of course. That’s how you do it now: say something heinous and the world will beat a path to your door. And Bush’s speech wasn’t exactly a barn burner. His delivery was rushed and unconvincing, though he was more at ease during the question period. He was criticized for a lack of specificity. But Bush offered something far more important than specificity. He offered a sense of his political style and temperament, which in itself presents a grownup and civil alternative to the Giuliani-style pestilence that has plagued the Republic for the past 25 years.
There is none of John McCain’s chesty bellicosity. Bush makes no false, egregious claims, on issues foreign or domestic. He resists the partisan hyperbole that has coarsened our politics. He even, at one point in his foreign policy speech, praised Obama for the position he has taken on – get a map! – the Baltic states. He proposes a return to the bipartisan foreign policy that was operational when this nation was at its strongest. And he criticizes Obama for the right things: his sloppy rhetoric, his lack of strategy. You don’t say “Assad must go” and then let him stay. You don’t announce a “pivot” toward Asia – what are you pivoting away from? You don’t put human rights above national security, as Obama has done in his arm’s-length relationship with Egypt, which is actually fighting ISIS on the ground and in the air.
Though Bush is certainly stretching himself somewhat to strike some familiar chords to red-meat primary voters, he appears to be sticking to his above-the-fray strategy for the long haul. According to Klein, it’s a strategy even more Republican than today’s GOP field seems to realize:
Bush’s economic vision is traditionally Republican. He believes the economy is more likely to grow with lower taxes than with government stimulus. He doesn’t bash the rich, but he doesn’t offer supply-side voodoo, either. The American “promise is not broken when someone is wealthy,” he told the Detroit Economic Club. “It is broken when achieving success is far beyond our imagination.” He is worried about middle-class economic stagnation, about the inability of the working poor to rise – his PAC is called Right to Rise. His solution is providing more opportunity rather than income redistribution. We’ll see, over time, what he means by that. And he favors reforming the public sector, especially the education and regulatory systems, as a way to create new economic energy. “It’s time to challenge every aspect of how government works,” he told a national meeting of auto dealers in San Francisco.
All of us though, even the consummate politician Bush, will have to live with what today’s hyperpartisan right brings to bear for the future of American politics. Bush, with his decision to buck the trend using more traditional political capital, is ultimately holding a mirror up to our body politic, win or lose:
Bush’s fate will tell us a lot about the Republican Party. He does not seem to be an angry man, and the need to screech has been the great Republican vulnerability in recent presidential campaigns. His candidacy takes crazy off the table – no nutso talk about vaccinations or evolution or the President’s patriotism. Even if you disagree with him, his civility demands respect.