In the weeks since the election, Jeb(!) Bush has been conspicuously absent. He ended his absence today with a surprising op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that, among other advice to the president-elect and the Republican Party, calls for a convention of states to amend the Constitution.
Bush, who acknowledges that Mr. Trump “tapped into the anger and deep distrust that voters feel toward Washington” and the belief that “our system is skewed in favor of the powerful and the connected,” points out that “This election was more about voting against something than voting for something. Americans voted against the ‘establishment,’ against the country’s changing culture, against a dysfunctional Washington, against the privileged, against Hillary Clinton—and, yes, against Donald Trump.”
Bush notes that, even though Republicans won a decisive electoral victory, neither Trump nor the party is popular. To assume that the election results are a mandate for everything that Trump campaigned on, even as he trails by more than 2 million popular votes, might lead to the same trap of federal overreach that ensnared Barack Obama.
Instead, Bush argues for a positive agenda that will appeal to the majority of Americans. “Americans, by wide majorities, agree that Washington is broken, so let’s send power back to the people and back to the states,” Bush writes. “Republicans should support convening a constitutional convention to pass term limits, a balanced-budget amendment and restraints on the Commerce Clause, which has given the federal government far more regulatory power than the Founders intended.”
What Bush is referring to here is typically referred to as an “Article V convention” or a “convention of states,” an alternative method of amending the Constitution that has never been used, but that has been much discussed in recent years. Article V of the Constitution provides that two-thirds of the states can call a constitutional convention and amendments can then be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or conventions in three-fourths of the states. This would require 34 states to call for the convention and 38 states to ratify.
While the election of 2016 may give Republicans their best chance at a successful Article V convention, it is by no means a slam dunk. Ballotpedia shows that starting in 2017, Republicans will control all three branches of government in 25 states. While this is a historic high, it falls short of the number of states required to ratify an amendment or even call for a convention. Conversely, only five states are completely controlled by Democrats. This falls short of the 13 states needed to block an amendment.
These numbers mean the Republicans have an advantage, but the 20 states with bipartisan government control will be decisive. A constitutional convention would be dominated by Republicans, but there would be no blank check. Republicans would be forced to compromise to amend the Constitution.
Perhaps realizing the difficulty of amending the Constitution, Bush offers an agenda that can be accomplished through Congress. “Most critically, Republicans should reverse the Obama-era policies that have made America weaker, both here and abroad. We need to repeal and replace ObamaCare, eliminate business-killing regulations, and reverse the massive expansion of government. While we protect our borders and our laws, we should also take on the hard work of reforming legal immigration and affirming the role that immigrants play in building up our economy and our nation.” Bush also calls on the new president to “restore American leadership in the world” and “protect and reassure our friends and allies.”
He also calls upon Republicans to repair their party’s tarnished image. “Republicans must restore our brand as the party of conservative ideals, shared prosperity, liberty and responsibility,” he writes. He stresses that this should be done “without stooping to the identity politics of the left. Let’s not focus on angst, grievance and division over race, class or gender.”
Bush makes the point that Trump’s victory was neither a license for Republicans to take reckless action or an excuse to take the reins of power and then rest on their laurels. Democratic overreach and disregard for the will of the people is what handed the Republicans this victory. The voters will hold Mr. Trump accountable if he does not follow through with his promise to “make America great again.”
“The GOP has no excuse for failure,” Bush writes. “We are in charge of both the executive and legislative branches in Washington, and we dominate in the states like never before. We have the power to set the agenda, and we have the responsibility to govern, not merely on behalf of the voters who supported President-elect Trump, but for all Americans.”