Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s psychiatrist wants him to move past the 2016 presidential election.
“I’m not going to talk about the 2016 election,” Bush joked on Tuesday in a talk sponsored by the The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale. “I’m still in therapy.”
But that didn’t stop him from taking shots at President Donald Trump, his opponent in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. At one point, Bush described the current president as “Republican in basically name only.” And earlier in his speech, Bush said that after the 2016 Republican primary in South Carolina, he returned home to children who “actually love me.” His comment was met with raucous laughter from the crowd, and several audience members interviewed after the event said they interpreted Bush’s comment as a jab at Trump.
Bush — the son of President George H.W. Bush ’48 and brother of President George W. Bush ’68 — gave a lecture under the title “A Conversation with Jeb Bush: Restoring Conservatism in America.” The lecture and questions that followed focused on the state of American politics and how the younger generation can create a reinvigorated conservative movement.
“If there was ever need for a Bill Buckley-like approach, to transforming conservatism in this country, it is right now,” Bush said. “Maybe not a 19th-century or a 20th-century version of conservatism but certainly a 21st-century version of that. And sadly the fracturing of the conservative movement could not come at a worse time.”
Following opening remarks from Madeline Fortier ’19, president of the the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, Bush began a 40-minute speech that drew on a wide range of topics — including economic opportunity, immigration and what it means to be a young conservative — before fielding questions from the audience.
During the talk, Bush offered a variety of suggestions for revitalizing American conservatism. He emphasized the need for an embrace of bottom-up economics, a return to belief in fiscal responsibility, economically efficient immigration reform and limited government.
“The 21st-century conservative agenda cannot be nostalgic about the past,” Bush said.
Instead, he emphasized the need to create a plan that accounts for the proliferation of technology, increasing globalization and a more competitive world.
Despite his Trump barbs, at the talk, Bush called for more polite political discourse, citing William Buckley Jr.’s ’50 style of rhetoric. Bush recalled watching Buckley’s famous television program, Firing Line, and admiring Buckley’s respect for the opposition, his wit and his hopeful optimism.
Members of the Buckley Program, students not affiliated with the group and community members alike attended the talk.
“It’s easy to listen to only one side of the debate,” said Ryley Constable ’21 who said he identifies as a “more conservative” student. “The normal Yale speaker tends to be more left-leaning, so it’s nice to hear from some speakers on the right as well.”
Constable said he especially agreed with Bush on the importance of rejecting bad morals within one’s own party. He said that rejecting moral shortcomings in the opposition party while accepting them in your own is reprehensible.
Members of the broader Connecticut community also attended the talk. Carol Platt Liebau, President of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy in Hartford — a think and action tank that promotes limited government and fairness for taxpayers — made the trip down to New Haven to attend the event.
“To me the talk wasn’t a matter of controversy. It was Governor Bush’s vision of where conservativism needed to make sure it was mindful in order to remain relevant, and I thought that his emphasis on reestablishing a less populist, more traditional understanding of conservatism was obviously relevant and obviously something that a lot of people in the room agreed with,” said Liebau.
Bush served as the 43rd governor of the state of Florida from 1999 to 2007. He ran for president in 2016.
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Correction, March 28: A previous version of this article stated that Bush’s comment that he “went home to my children that actually love me” was meant as a jab at President Donald Trump. In fact, Bush did not directly refer to Trump — but he was speaking about his loss in the 2016 South Carolina Republican presidential primary, which Trump won. His comment was met with raucous laughter and applause from the crowd, and eight of nine audience members interviewed after the event told the News they interpreted Bush’s comment as a reference to Trump. The News regrets this error. The story has also been updated to include a direct criticism of Trump that Bush made later in his speech.