But the main point I want to underscore is the danger to conservatism when someone like Jeb Bush (or Mitch Daniels, or Bob McDonnell, or Chris Christie) is considered an apostate.
Let’s consider Bush’s record as governor. While Bush never signed an anti-tax pledge, he never raised taxes. In fact, he cut taxes every year he was governor (covering eight years and totaling $20 billion).
Ronald Reagan, by contrast, signed into law what his biographer Lou Cannon called “the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor in the history of the United States”–one four times as large as the previous record set by Governor Pat Brown–as well as the nation’s first no-fault divorce law and legislation liberalizing California’s abortion laws, which even people sympathetic to Reagan concede “led to an explosion of abortions in the nation’s largest state.” (Reagan didn’t anticipate the consequences of the law and deeply regretted his action.)
Now imagine the Norquist and Shirley standard being applied to Reagan in the 1970s. If Jeb Bush’s comments unleashed heated attacks, even given his sterling anti-tax record, think about what Reagan’s support for unprecedented tax increases–including higher taxes on top rates, sales taxes, bank and corporate taxes, and the inheritance tax–would have elicited. The Gipper would have been accused of being a RINO, a pseudo-conservative, unprincipled, and a member of the loathsome Establishment.
Just because the history books say Reagan raised taxes doesn’t mean Republicans have to remember him that way.