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Former Gov. Jeb Bush calls for older Americans to ‘get off’ the political stage

Javon L. Harris/The State

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called on Wednesday for older Americans to pass the political torch to a new generation, saying that it’s up to a new cohort of leaders to change the country’s “toxic political climate.”

“As a 70-year-old person, I’m part of the problem,” Bush said at a luncheon at Miami’s Jungle Island hosted by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. “It’s time for my generation to get off the stage politically.”

Bush, who served eight years as Florida governor before launching an ill-fated bid for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination, did not point fingers at any specific political figure or candidate in his remarks. He said that members of both parties deserved blame for playing into ideological extremes and using hyperbolic rhetoric.

“The people that say the most outrageous things get more followers on Twitter,” he said, referring to the social media site now known as “X.” “They don’t want to serve, they don’t want to solve problems. They’re there because they want to be a Kim Kardashian political figure.”

Asked by one attendee about the politics of Florida’s “current governor” — Republican Ron DeSantis — Bush declined to address that part of the question and advised that young people get involved in public life on their own.

DeSantis, 45, has cultivated a reputation for years as a hardline conservative who has waged political and policy wars against what he describes as liberal or leftist ideology in education, business and government. In doing so, he’s earned criticism from Democrats and some Republicans who say he is pushing the GOP toward a right-wing ideological extreme.

Bush, who’s been out of elected office for more than 15 years and is counted among the GOP’s moderates, has praised DeSantis in the past. He told Fox News earlier this year that the Florida governor could help lead a generational change in the nation’s politics, though he has not endorsed DeSantis’ presidential campaign.

On Wednesday, Bush spoke about politics only in broad terms. He decried that some Americans had come to rely too heavily on “alternative-style facts” and had become “too comfortable having our views validated.” He also called on a new generation of Americans to restore the “civility of American politics,” but said that that could only happen if voters stop rewarding politicians who play to their parties’ and voters’ most extreme demands.

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“We need to reward the politicians that have the courage to go against their base based on principle,” Bush said.

Bush’s comments on Wednesday echoed those of other aging political figures, like Republican U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who have recently expressed a desire to step back from politics in order to pave the way for younger generations of Americans to take power.

The timing of Bush’s remarks was also significant, coming as the country readies for the 2024 presidential election. President Joe Biden, 81, is seeking reelection to a second term in the White House, while former President Donald Trump, 77, appears to be the GOP’s most-likely pick to challenge him.

DeSantis, who’s also seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nod, is running well behind Trump in virtually every state and national poll and is competing vigorously against former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley for the second-place spot in the primary.

For many, Trump has come to symbolize the kind of partisan extreme that has taken hold in the U.S. Bush, who feuded with Trump himself during his 2016 presidential run, said on Wednesday that it was time for Americans on both sides of the political aisle to “stand up against the bullies on your team.”

“We have two tribes, red and blue,” he said. “If you’re on the blue team and someone says something completely outrageous, stand up and say, ‘no you’re wrong.’ And if you’re on the red team, do the exact same thing.”