Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talk together before the start of the CNN Republican presidential debate, Sep. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif. 
Photo by Chris Carlson/AP

Jeb Bush clumsily claims high ground against Trump

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said last night that he would “absolutely” implement a policy of registering Muslim Americans into a government database. Jeb Bush sat down with CNBC this morning and, to his credit, said such a policy would be “just wrong.” Politico reported:
“It’s not a question of toughness. It’s manipulating people’s angst and their fears. That’s not strength. That’s weakness,” Bush said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
“And look, campaigns are important for sure. We’re electing a president, but there are things that are important as it relates to the values that we have as a country that make us special and unique, and we should not and we will never abandon them in the pursuit of this fight. We don’t have to. We can protect our freedoms here.”
I’ve seen some praise for Bush saying the right thing this morning, and it’s not unfounded. Trump’s approach is simply indefensible, and though right-wing activists may find Trump’s ideas appealing, the former Florida governor nevertheless denounced dangerous extremism. I’m glad.
But there are two related angles that are worth keeping in mind here. First, let’s at least try to set the bar for basic human decency a little higher. Yes, it’s a good thing that Jeb Bush opposes the idea of the government forcing an American religious minority into some kind of federal registry, but if this is what passes for Republican “moderation” in 2015, the toxicity of American politics has already reached dangerous levels.
Second, isn’t it a little late for Jeb to clumsily claim the moral high ground on this issue?
It’s heartening, to be sure, to see Bush appear on national television, distance himself from Trump’s radicalism, and to defend the importance of values and American principles.
But this comes the same week we’ve also seen the Florida Republican argue that the United States should reject Syrian refugees for reasons he has not yet explained. Bush later clarified that some refugees might be able to enter the country, but only if they’re members of a religious group he approves of.
“You’re a Christian – I mean, you can prove you’re a Christian,” Jeb inexplicably argued.
So, sure, I’m delighted to see the former governor explain that that “there are things that are important as it relates to the values that we have as a country that make us special and unique,” but I’m also wondering why Bush has spent the week ignoring those values.