He reiterated his general support for engagement. (“This policy of pulling back, disengaging is not the right approach. If our friends don’t count on us or trust us, and there are many examples of that, and our enemies don’t fear us, it creates challenges that we are now seeing — particularly in the Middle East, but across the board.”) And he directly slammed the president for his treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “It turns out he didn’t quite say that. That was how the narrative was built here in the United States. What he said was as long as the Palestinians don’t recognize Israel, their right to have secure borders as a Jewish state, that a two-state solution is not possible. Look, Israeli politics is rough and tumble, maybe more so than here. And so, he apologized for what he said about Arab Israelis, and we should take him at his word. We shouldn’t be continuing to disparage him.” He came out against closing Gitmo. He took another step away from Baker: “I did not believe it was appropriate to go speak to J Street, a group that basically has anti-Israeli sentiments, but I have a vast array of people advising me and I’m honored that Jim Baker is doing so. The fact that I have people that I might not agree with on every subject advising me shows leadership, frankly. I don’t think we need monolithic thinking here.” (He could have done away with the “honored” part, but it was at least an acknowledgment that Baker’s views on Israel are an anathema to most of the extremely pro-Israel GOP.)
As for the Taliban trade for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, he said, “My first reaction is to the people who lost their lives trying to get him back and their families that didn’t get the same attention from this administration and this president. It’s heartbreaking to think about people, the blood and treasure of our country, being lost in any circumstance. But to try to bring back someone who turns out to have been a deserter is just heartbreaking.”
Bush certainly has topics he is passionate about, especially education. But with negotiators about to give away the store to Iran, the U.S. president bashing Israel, key votes on the defense budget and the war against the Islamic State, he will need to bring foreign policy front and center, be more definitive (for example, is he going to abide by a bad Iran deal?), and be more declarative about what he would do (as opposed to describing the mess President Obama has made). Perhaps this is a matter of getting better staff to beef up written statements or to sharpen his views (rival Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, revealed in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that he makes time for a foreign policy briefing every day, and other reports suggest he reads extensively on national security issues).
Now as to Walker, a piece in the Wall Street Journal asserted he had “changed” positions and was touting behind closed doors a path to citizenship. After some social media hyper-ventilation, his spokeswoman put out a statement essentially denying the account: “We strongly dispute this account. Governor Walker has been very clear that he does not support amnesty and believes that border security must be established and the rule of law must be followed. His position has not changed, he does not support citizenship for illegal immigrants, and this story line is false.”
There are three aspects to this flap. First, Walker would do well to spell out what he is for, not simply what he is against. He said that this president’s conduct changed his mind on the issue. How it changed and what he now believes are topics he should address forthrightly. Second, he should be wary of chasing voters drawn to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) who inveigh against immigration and toss around economically suspect claims. Walker remains a figure who can unify the party and appeal to non-Republicans in a general election. There is no need to marginalize himself as Mitt Romney did went he introduced “self-deportation” to the 2012 presidential race. Third, for all the huffing and puffing about Bush, immigration reform critics ignore the similarities among the views of Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Texas governor Rick Perry and others who emphasize border security first. None of them favor “open borders” or “amnesty.” Rubio, for example, favors border security and measures to counter visa overstay and then an arduous road to citizenship for those here illegally (with fines, payment of back taxes, etc.) and repair of our legal immigration system. It’s not going to please the talk radio show anti-immigration crowd, but let’s remember that they are not representative of the GOP electorate as a whole. Whatever route Walker chooses, he should be clear and unapologetic.
These developments are a reminder that it is far better to be definitive and express your views to voters even if they disagree with you. Ultimately, candidates will be selected not only for their views but also for their tenacity and forthrightness.