Former Florida governor Jeb Bush warns that Republicans are in for a beating in the fall elections if congressional races focus on the rhetoric and character of President Trump.
Bush, an early front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination who tangled with Trump during the 2016 campaign, praised Trump’s moves to roll back business regulations and sign into law a $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that slashes rates for corporations.
Despite support for those policies, Bush lambasted Trump’s erratic leadership style, obsession with Twitter and “racist” comments that could cost Republicans control of Congress in November if they can’t distance themselves from the former reality TV star.
“If the election is nationalized and it’s not about the economy, then we’ll lose,” Bush told USA TODAY as Trump prepares to deliver the State of the Union address rounding up his first year in office. “If it’s about the economy and it’s driven by state or district interest, incumbents can do well.”
Bush assessed the Republican Party and its president during a wide-ranging interview after touring a charter elementary school in a Cuban-American neighborhood here.
Since dropping out of the presidential race, Bush has focused on his investment firm, Dock Square Capital, and his work with the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which advocates for school choice and charter schools.
To prevent a Democratic wave this fall, as many polls predict, Bush said GOP candidates need to sell every example of companies giving out bonuses, increasing salaries and creating jobs in the U.S.
“Every business that announces a job increase, you can make a pretty compelling case that it’s tax reform and regulatory reform that was a catalyst to make that happen,” Bush said.
But Bush worried that Trump will not allow Republicans to steer clear of him because of “his incredible view that the world revolves around him.”
Bush railed against reports that the president referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole” countries. He criticized Trump’s moves to isolate the U.S. from other global powers. And he decried the revolving door of staffers who have sullied the reputation of the White House on their way out the door.
“The character of the guy and the (turnover) and fighting, and just the constant chaos around his presidency that is self-inflicted has made it hard for him,” Bush said. “I want the president to succeed. I don’t think he will succeed if he continues on this path.”
Bush blamed both political parties when sizing up the ongoing battle over immigration. The White House on Thursday released a plan that provides a path to U.S. citizenship for up to 1.8 million undocumented DREAMers in exchange for $25 billion to help build a border wall and a nearly 25% reduction in legal immigration.
The proposal was immediately panned by Democrats opposed to reducing legal immigration so drastically and many Republicans opposed to granting citizenship.
The two sides have until Feb. 8 to strike a compromise, and Bush said both are placing possible political gains above the real-life consequences facing the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“The left and the right have figured out that this is a great political wedge issue,” Bush said. “It’s not a moral issue or an economic issue. It’s purely an issue of, ‘How do we poll this to make sure our team, our tribe, does better?'”
Bush expressed particular disappointment with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for not taking a leading role to help both sides find a middle ground. Rubio, another failed presidential candidate in 2016, was part of a bipartisan group of senators that pushed an immigration overhaul through the Senate in 2013, but he has been largely silent during the current debate.
“God forbid you actually took on something that was controversial and paid a political price,” Bush said. “That’s the attitude in D.C. right now. Certainly Sen. Rubio is no different in that regard. Marco is a talented guy and he understands this issue really well, and maybe behind the scenes he’s working hard. But at some point, his leadership would be really helpful.”
Jeb Bush is calling on Senator Marco Rubio to take on a ‘leadership role’ by working together with both sides of the aisle on major issues. USA TODAY
The former governor had high praise for one member of the Trump administration: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. He admitted that he’s biased since she used to be a board member on his education foundation. But Bush said she’s struck the right balance between supporting school choice principles and keeping the Washington bureaucracy out of classrooms.
“She a phenomenal advocate,” he said.
As for his own political future, Bush was non-committal. He said the political environment in Washington has become so toxic that he has no interest in jumping back into another presidential race. “Until that changes, I don’t anticipate running for anything,” he said.
Bush, 64, said he’d rather continue focusing on his work, his education foundation, candidates that he supports, and his golf game.
“I got a blessed life,” Bush said. “I got four grandkids. This February I’ll be married 43 years. I’ve got a thriving business.