Jeb Bush: GOP should set up "shadow government"

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tells Newsmax that the GOP must broaden its appeal to avoid becoming “the old white-guy party,” and recommends that Republicans create a “shadow government” to engage Democrats on important issues as the incoming Obama administration seeks to enact its agenda.

In a wide-ranging interview with Newsmax, the popular former governor and younger brother of President George W. Bush said the 2008 election was neither “transformational” nor a landslide. For example, he noted that Barack Obama's significant fundraising advantage over John McCain played a key role in Democratic success this year.

Bush urged Republicans not to abandon their core conservative principles in favor of a "Democratic-lite" agenda. Still, the GOP does need to do some real soul-searching, he said.

“If you take the [last] two election cycles, there’s real cause for concern, no question about it,” he said.

There is good news for Republicans, Bush said: The United States remains “basically a center-right country.” He cited President-elect Barack Obama’s stance on taxes as an example.

“Who would have thought the so-called liberal candidate would be the one advocating tax cuts, and attacking the Republican candidate for tax hikes — which wasn’t true, but was effective when you consider he was outspending Sen. McCain by five to one.”

Bush, considered one of the most successful governors in modern Florida history, gives Democrats kudos for their effectiveness in registering voters. That should be a lesson to the GOP, he said.

“Go back to the blocking and tackling, and not assume that you can just pontificate,” said Bush, who frequently is mentioned as a top-tier GOP presidential prospect.

“You’ve got to do the hard work. That means grass-roots organization. It means listening to the base of the party. It means voter registration. It means turn-out operations. It means recruiting candidates that look like the population we’re trying to attract to our cause. Those things seem to have waned in the last couple years.”

Perhaps most importantly, Bush said, the party must confront the nation’s changing demographics.

“We can’t ignore large segments of our population and expect to win,” Bush said. “We can’t be the ‘old white-guy’ party. It’s just not going to work, the demographics go against us in that regard.

“Among Hispanic voters, I think we need to change the tone of the conversation as it relates to immigration. In Florida, we’ve not participated much in the chest pounding and the yelling and the screaming. I mean, it just drives me nuts when there are substantive policy differences that we can show mutual respect on, but the tone needs to change. And I think we need to recruit more candidates who share our values in the Hispanic community. In Florida we’ve done that.”

Indeed, Bush, who is fluent in Spanish and married to a Mexican-American, carried over 56 percent of the Florida’s non-Cuban Hispanic vote when he won re-election to the Florida statehouse in 2002. His popularity among GOP-leaning Cuban-Americans was even higher.

Bush’s other advice on where the GOP should go from here:

# The party should establish a loyal opposition and “organize ourselves in the form of a shadow government” that would address key issues, providing the public with “a loftier debate about policy” rather than mere partisanship.

# On the state and local level, Bush says the GOP should demonstrate “a passion for reform.”

# The party must hold fast to its convictions. “We can’t be Democrat-lite. We can’t just ‘get along,’” he told Newsmax. “We have to actually be proposing solutions to what appear to be intractable problems as it relates to education, healthcare, infrastructure. Across the board there are ways that we can show that we are truly on the side of the people that are concerned about the future of the country, without abandoning our principles.”

# Bush cited Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal as “a great example of a governor who is leading by example, and has a passion for reform. That should be the model across the country.”

Bush also offered Obama advice on one of his favorite issues, education: “Obama should defy his core constituency. He should take on the teachers’ union and be on the side of disadvantaged families who send their kids to schools that almost assure that their children will not have the same opportunities that were afforded them. That is an un-American situation, and there’s much that can be done to narrow the achievement gap.

“Part of it means we may need to restructure how we educate kids. We need to use technology. We need to pay for performance for teachers. We need to eliminate tenure. We need to focus early on the fact that we have these huge achievement gaps. We need much more accountability, we need more school choice.

“And if Senator Obama led that charge, there would be truly a transformation in education, and I for one would be a strong supporter in that regard,” Bush said.

On the economy, Bush said Obama should reconsider his plans to raise taxes.

“His advisers can’t be telling him it’s a great idea to raise taxes, it’s a great idea to raise the capital gains tax, it’s a great idea to raise marginal rates. They can’t be telling him that in this very, very perilous economic time that we’re in,” Bush said.

On a personal note, Bush told Newsmax that he wouldn’t be surprised if his father, former President H.W. Bush, jumps out of a plane when he turns 85 in June.

“He likes going fast in boats and he likes jumping out of planes,” he said of his father. “I can’t explain it, but there’s nothing I can do about it!”

Bush added, “Whenever I get a chance, I always ask him about his life, because it’s just been a spectacular life. If I could be half the man my dad has been, I would consider myself having a really privileged life.”