Late last year, Jeb Bush said he knew how a Republican could win the White House in 2016.
“…(I)t has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more willing to…’lose the primary to win the general’ without violating your principles,” he said.
Then, he added, “That’s not an easy task.”
No, it sure isn’t. Not with the religious right running around supporting a law in Indiana and a bill in Arkansas that would give private businesses the right to refuse service or do business with people whose lifestyles or religious principles they don’t agree with.
Fortunately, at least for his party’s chances of winning the presidency, Bush appears to mean what he said when he talked about being willing to “lose the primary to win the general.”
On Wednesday, Bush did an about-face on the Indiana “religious freedom” law, which triggered a storm of outrage. (The Indiana and Arkansas governors are now urging their respective legislatures to clean up the mess.)
A New York Times report said that at a Silicon Valley fund-raiser, Bush told a small group of potential supporters that a “consensus-oriented” approach would have been better at the outset.
The Times story went on to say:
“Mr. Bush’s comments were strikingly different in tone and in scope from what he said on Monday night in an interview with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. In that interview he praised Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana for doing the ‘right thing’ and said that the new law was similar to one in Florida and to a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.”
Similar, yes, but with key differences. For one thing, the Indiana law gives businesses the ability to use the law to defend themselves against civil-rights suits brought by individuals. That’s a key divergence from the federal “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which lets people use that law to defend themselves against civil-rights suits brought by the government.
The Indiana law — as currently written — opens the door for situations like those being cited in media coverage, where a bakery could cite the law in defending itself against a legal claim brought by a gay couple for whom the bakery refused to make a wedding cake.
To his credit, Bush saw that he could get whipsawed if he remained intransigent. He realized that the Indiana law was an overreach that presented individuals, and some businesses, with the option of discriminating against certain groups and individuals. And he reversed course.
It’s the kind of mess that John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 probably wouldn’t have had the good sense to extricate themselves from. Fearing the wrath of the religious right, they probably would have closed their eyes and let their sleds go careening over the cliff, instead of jamming their toes into the snow.
To get himself off the margins and back in the mainstream, Bush said that while religious freedom is a core value of our country” and a basic right, “we shouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation.”
That was good — but not as good as what Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said.
By now, I’m sure, you know that Hutchinson’s son Seth, a 31-year-old union organizer in Texas, had told his father that he objected to an Arkansas bill similar to the one in Indiana. He even signed a petition urging his father to veto it.
Seth’s entreaty helped the elder Hutchinson see the light.
“The issue has become divisive,” the governor said, “because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions. It has divided families and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue.”
…Any Republican presidential candidates who refuse to acknowledge the generation gap on gay rights will find themselves, in the short term, in the religious right’s good graces. But that’s not where the Republican nominee needs to be in November 2016, in my opinion.
So, I applaud Jeb Bush for looking past the madding crowd of right wingers on the issue of “restoring religious freedom.” It’s an indication that he won’t let himself be browbeaten into taking positions that make him look like foolish to the 21-to-40 set, who — if roused from their political apathy — could have their way at any time.