Jeb Bush would appear to be a perfect general election candidate for the Republican Party: A record of success and competence as governor of Florida. Moderate conservative principles. A history of bipartisanship. Thoughtful leadership on vital policy issues like education. Fluency in Spanish, a Mexican-born wife, and a sincere searcher for a way out of the country’s immigration mess give him appeal to the growing Hispanic vote.
Just one problem: His last name is Bush. Even his mother has opined that a nation of more than 300 million can do better than turn to dynastic control of the White House.
Yet, the establishment leadership and rich donor base of the GOP is enthusiastic for Bush. They are, reports the Washington Post, behind an effort to draft Bush for the 2016 presidential race. The son of one president and brother of another hasn’t made a decision about running but is certainly laying the groundwork by making speeches, appearing with Republican candidates and showing up at donor functions like a big one in Las Vegas last weekend.
Part of the enthusiasm for Bush is attributed to the Bridgegate political troubles of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and establishment anxiety over the rise of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the libertarian maverick who challenges GOP orthodoxy on foreign policy and national security.
Republicans find themselves in a strange situation for 2016. In the past, there’s usually been a presidential nominee-in-waiting, a candidate who ran before, came in second and by virtue of that experience earned the right of “it’s his turn.” Think Mitt Romney, John McCain and Bob Dole.
But no one can claim that role this time. It’s a wide open race. Paradoxically, it’s the Democrats who are looking like the party with the inherited candidate. Hillary Clinton, if she wants it, appears to have the nomination all but wrapped up.
Republican leaders and donors are alarmed by President Obama’s years of hyper-partisan divisive politics in Washington, his redistributive schemes, his contempt for the separation of powers, the IRS abuse of conservatives, and his seeming retreat from robust U.S. leadership in global affairs. They also worry that the GOP lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.
While Jeb Bush the competent moderate may easily generate admiration among the establishment and moneyed class, it’s not so easy to see how he could inspire enthusiasm in the GOP’s more conservative base.
Would independents who helped deny President George H.W. Bush a second term and who don’t have warm memories of George W. Bush and the unpopular Iraq war come to believe that what the country needs is another Bush as president?
Maybe so, if the Democrat nominee is Clinton, in effect another retread from past presidential politics.
Despite the herculean effort needed to organize a presidential run, it’s too early to foreclose other options. Christie is starting to reinvigorate his political fortunes since no evidence has emerged that he ordered the controversial bridge closing. Russia’s aggression in annexing Crimea and China throwing its weight around in territorial disputes with neighbors may persuade Paul of the necessity for strong U.S. leadership abroad. Other attractive candidates are in the wings — reform-minded Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, conservative policy thinker Chairman Paul Ryan of the House Budget Committee, and charismatic Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, to name just a few.
While Republicans certainly don’t want another self-destructive primary circus like 2012, they should take the time needed to pick a winner.