Jeb Bush emerges post-Trump and offers conservatives a way forward
© Getty Images

I was well impressed with former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) after a magazine profile appeared on him when he first entered the run for the GOP nomination for president.

Not so much impressed by his accomplishments, although they were his own and they were formidable; I was impressed by his quiet manner and how he would do the evening cooking at his house and how he became a Catholic to keep his family whole as his wife was Catholic and he was raised otherwise. My Anglo-Irish grandmother had done the same thing.

I saw these things as reaching to the core of true nobility; nothing about riches, honors or traditions, but a man's or woman's simple commitment to family no matter what the cost, be they sons of American gentry like Bush or impoverished Irish immigrants like my grandmother.

He seemed a man of some grace and serenity; humble even — too humble, perhaps, for these tumultuous times. And after more than a year of campaign bombast, it was strangely pleasing to hear his quiet voice again. Bush was in East Tennessee recently, speaking at a leadership conference and was asked what he thought of the new president-elect.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I didn't vote for him," he said. "I made it clear I wasn't going to support him at that time. I didn't think either candidate passed the threshold of who should be sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, making decisions that have a huge impact on the world."

It was a race "against," he said, although he didn't mention that he and the conservative tradition which brought him to the presidential race was seen then as the object of the people's scorn.

"The people's anger is legitimate. Their frustrations are real. The system hasn't worked for people in a long while. Washington needs to be drained. It is a swamp."

Interesting words from the absolute scion of the Eastern Establishment, but seemingly quite sincere. He is bereft now of the tradition and the Establishment which he was seen to represent. It has been smashed to a million pieces by President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCoast Guard chief: 'Unacceptable' that service members must rely on food pantries, donations amid shutdown Dem lawmaker apologizes after saying it's never been legal in US to force people to work for free Grassley to hold drug pricing hearing MORE.

But Bush is in an interesting position today. He is free to make a fresh start, not to revive the old but to begin again as if for the first time. The Democrats are in dire straits, stuck in the generational vortex of the Clinton camp and will be so for a long time. Republicans — and Bush specifically — are in a position to build a new approach in case the anarchist bent of the ascending Trump doesn't work out, and the new boss, to paraphrase The Who, is same as the old boss. Or worse.

"Donald Trump's successful primary campaign was predicated on the idea that the GOP needs a new messenger and a new message," Bush wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Trump proved that he was right — as I well know, since I was often in his target sights!"

Republicans today need to do more than be against something, he wrote, "We have to be for a few big ideas and show that we can put them into action."

But Trump's anti-globalist America is contained within itself, which in my opinion is not necessarily a bad thing and can bring us Americans to a new sense of self-realization. Poet Walt Whitman wrote more than a century ago that when we returned from our journey across the world, to the stars and beyond, "The true Son of God shall come, singing his songs."

If Bush and his fellow conservatives today can imagine themselves with actual borders, they might look to the Tea Party for answers that fit our new situation. They might talk to Ron Paul about Austrian economics. They might talk to the old patrician Lewis Lehrman and learn more about gold. Traditional conservatives today are already outside of the box — thrown out — so they might as well get away from the swamp entirely.

"Among the states we see two visions for America," then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) said to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting in 2014, in what might be seen as a Tea Party manifesto. He has signed on with the Trump administration recently as Energy Secretary and perhaps this view reflects on the new administration. But I have my doubts.

"There's the vision common in blue states, where the state plays an increasing role in the lives of its citizens. And then there's the vision common to red-state America where the freedom of the individual comes first, and the reach of government is limited," Perry continued.

This is where the conservatism of today must turn and Bush seems an advocate: "Americans, by wide majorities, agree that Washington is broken, so let's send power back to the people and back to the states," he wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

This is Texas Tea Party talk at the most essential level. And Bush even calls for a constitutional convention, a radical position which New England Tenthers like myself first called for in 2005.

Would Trump go for that? I doubt it.

"Republicans should support convening a constitutional convention to pass term limits, a balanced-budget amendment and restraints on the Commerce Clause, which has given the federal government far more regulatory power than the Founders intended."

That's a good start, but Bush and company need to talk to Perry's successor, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who is brave and bold and has taken the lead in promoting a Convention of States with nine new amendments. Some are old chestnuts like a balanced budget amendment. But several can be unnerving to old conservative traditionalists, like No. 5: "Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision."

That one takes it right to the water's edge. In an age of rebellion, it might even be considered rebellious.

That's what Jeb Bush needs to ask himself: Is he a rebel?

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.