The positions of political parties are not static. In fact, they sometimes change rapidly. Ideological shifts usually begin at the grassroots level, and then trickle up to the political leadership. Those who do not change with their party on major issues often become heretics. Two prime examples of this are U.S. Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA), who during his 1972 bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination continued his support for a muscular foreign policy and U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who while exploring a bid for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, refuses to abandon his support for a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants. In both of these examples, the politician is "out of ideological line" with the prevailing consensus among members of their party.
There are a number of illustrations of this phenomenon in American political history. For example, in 1892 the Democratic Party nominated Grover Cleveland for President. He advocated a limited role for the federal government and a continuation of the Gold Standard. By 1896, just four years later, with the nation mired in an economic depression, the party moved to the left, nominating "The Great Commoner" William Jennings Bryan, who advocated for an activist role for the Federal Government and the abolition of the Gold Standard. Cleveland Democrats became heretics, and some, including Cleveland himself, supported the hapless candidacy of John M. Palmer of the newly established National Democratic Party.
Up until fairly recently, the Republican Party supported immigration reform, which included a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants. Then a sea change occurred within the party. Beginning at the grassroots level, then ascending to the political establishment, most Republican politicians now oppose legalizing illegal immigrants, branding it as "amnesty." However, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush continues to subscribe to the former view of his party, even doubling down, contending that illegal immigrants enter the nation as "an act of love." He calls for "a tough but fair path to legalized status."
Jeb Bush appears to be borrowing a page from U.S. Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA) who in 1972 doubled down both on his support for the U.S. role in Vietnam and for his opposition to cuts in the nation's military expenditures. Like Bush, Jackson was a representative of a political view that had been the mainstream orthodoxy in his party. This position has since receded within the party and has been supplanted by a new grassroots-oriented incarnation.
Henry "Scoop" Jackson's ideology was once the embodiment of the Democrat Party. In fact, he was Chairman of the party in 1960 and was considered by the party's Presidential nominee, John F. Kennedy, as a Vice Presidential running mate. Jackson's support for a munificent social service regime at home coupled with a muscular interventionist foreign policy had been the ideology of most Democrats since the inception of the Cold War. Past Democratic Presidents including Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnsons advocated for an activist interventionist Cold War foreign policy. Truman ordered U.S. troops into Korea. Kennedy and Johnson sent them into Vietnam. However, this position on foreign policy became antiquated in the party, as members virulently came to oppose the war in Vietnam. Democratic President's Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnsons all advocated an activist Cold War foreign policy.
The Vietnam War fractured the Democratic Party, beginning with the insurrectionists in the party who called for the U.S. to abandon its efforts in Indochina. Establishment Democrats began to read the political tealeaves and joined the insurrectionist chorus. The Democratic Congress that had passed the Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which authorized Johnson to use "conventional" military force in Vietnam, gradually moved to oppose the war. This significant ideological shift on the issue is evinced by future U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill's (D-MA) transmogrification in thinking on this matter. In 1966, Speaking at a rally at the Massachusetts State House in favor of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, O'Neill took aim at those who opposed the war, including many in academia who were his Cambridge constituents. O'Neill said: "I believe in Academic Freedom, but not as it is expounded by kooks, commies, and egghead professors." A year later, O'Neill became an opponent of the war.
Similarly, Jeb Bush's position on immigration reform reflects the Republican Party of the past and not the contemporaneous GOP. Today, on the illegal immigration issue, Bush is more in line with Ronald Reagan, who while running for the GOP Presidential nomination in 1980, exclaimed: "Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they're working and earning here, they'd pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back. They can cross. Open the borders both ways."
In 1986, Reagan signed the Immigration and Control Act, which included a provision legalizing amnesty to about three million illegal immigrants who had come to the U.S. prior to 1982. The statute contained certain caveats such as the requirement of paying back-taxes owed to the Federal Government and proving one's ability to speak English. The act also included more federal funding to secure the U.S-Mexican border.
The Reagan position was also the mainstream GOP position in 2000. The two main Republican Presidential candidates, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Texas Governor George W. Bush, opposed deploying U.S. troops to defend the Mexican border. They were both sympathetic to the plight of illegal immigrants. Bush asserted during the primary: "Family values does not stop at the Rio Grande River." Furthermore, President Bush unsuccessfully sought comprehensive immigration reform that would include a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants.
Since that time, the Republican Party has moved away from plans to grant a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens, and now supports utilizing resources to construct a border-fence. A Republican candidate will assuredly muster uproarious applause by declaring "no amnesty" to a GOP audience. In fact, U.S. Representative Steve King (R-IA), a vociferous critic of illegal immigration, has become a leading "King-maker" in the Republican Party. He is currently slated to hold forums for GOP Presidential candidates. King has branded illegal immigration "a slow-motion-terrorist attack."
In the 1972 race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, most of the Democratic field vociferously lambasted the U.S. policy in Vietnam. Even candidate Hubert Humphrey, who as Vice President to Lyndon B. Johnson had been a public supporter of the war, began advocating for "a total military withdrawal" from Southeast Asia. Contrariwise, Senator Jackson made no effort to tone down his hawkish foreign policy views or his support for the war. In fact, he doubled down on his position.
Jackson promised: "à la Harry Truman, to tell it like it is." Jackson's campaign brochure stated that he "wants to bring the troops home from Vietnam as soon as possible, but he wants to give the President of the United States [Republican Richard M. Nixon] a chance to do that in a responsible manner." In addition, Jackson did not toe the party line when it came to truncating the military budget. He said: "To those who say we must take risks for peace by cutting the meat from our military muscle, I say you are unwittingly risking war."
While Jackson garnered support from members of his party's establishment who had not caught up to the shift in thinking within their party, Democratic voters did not cotton to Jackson's message, and instead selected U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD) as their party's nominee. McGovern sang from the hymnbook of the Democratic base. McGovern trumpeted withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam along with reducing the nation's Defense budget over a three-year time period.
There was however one last-ditch effort by some in the Democratic establishment to nominate Jackson instead of McGovern. At the Democratic National Convention, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter placed Jackson's name in nomination. The effort failed, and McGovern won the nomination. The hawkish foreign policy once at the mainstream of the party was now near moribund, as the party supported McGovern's calls to "Come Home America."
Like Henry "Scoop" Jackson on Vietnam, Jeb Bush is making no effort to compromise his beliefs on what is a flagship issue for many conservative voters. Both Bush and Jackson took a position dramatically against the ideological tide in their respective party. Jackson was unable to bring the party back to its former ideological position of supporting a muscular foreign policy. Jackson failed to rekindle his party's past hawkish flame.
Should Jeb Bush make a bid for the GOP Presidential nomination, he will have the same challenge to overcome as Henry "Scoop" Jackson did. The question remains: Will Bush, like Jackson, be able to secure his party's nomination despite taking an opposing stand on what is the flagship issue to many voters in his party?