Archive for December, 2014

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Does the Bush name help Jeb?

December 17, 2014

My take on the Jeb Bush run for the Republican 2016 nomination is that the former governor’s family name is nothing but a hindrance to his hopes. Big brother George W. might be remembered slightly more kindly now than he was when he left office — when his Gallup approval rating was 34 per cent — but the Bush legacy is nonetheless one few Americans would like their country to carry on. As recently as February of this year, more Americans blamed President Bush for the country’s poor economic performance than they did Barack Obama. The Americans have no appetite to repeat the Bush administration’s foreign policy adventurism either. That might be unfair, but so too are any positive benefits a well-known political name might bestow upon any contender.

Jonathan Bernstein, however, makes the best possible case for Jeb Bush benefiting from his family connections:

What we can say is that if he were Jeb Smith, a former two-term governor of Florida who has been out of politics since leaving office in 2007, and who has unorthodox positions in more than one policy area, he would be viewed as a longshot.

But something about the Bush family just makes a certain breed of Republicans go all weak at the knees, and has ever since Jeb’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a senator and a possible vice-president. That means Jeb will have easy access to the resources (money, endorsements, expertise, and more) that matter in presidential nomination politics. Republicans haven’t had to live with extreme uncertainty about their nominee for a long time; and some may be very tempted to just settle for the next Bush in line. And by all accounts, Jeb is simply a better politician than either his brother or his father (or, for that matter, his grandfather).

Not bad! And it’s true that Republicans have a far more positive memory of the Bush years than the wider population. (Yes, to win the presidency, Jeb would need to triumph in the general election as well as the primary, but if he were to gain his party’s nomination, he’d also gain millions of supporters willing to explain to the American public why he’s nothing like his brother.)

I still consider him a non-starter as a candidate, however. His support for Common Core might not be as disqualifying as the sort of people who think American politics is scripted by Aaron Sorkin suppose (where else would federal education policy be such a big deal for conservatives?) but his liberal stance on immigration is both out of step with a party that parted ways with Rick Perry in 2012 over much less and disadvantages him by comparison with another contender, Marco Rubio, who better suits the party’s approach to resolving its problems with that issue. On such questions, Republicans tend to prefer representation — which Rubio’s Latino heritage satisifes — to policy.

And while the GOP does retain a cadre of Bush family loyalists, the wider party is orienting itself towards the next generation of Republicans: more conservative, less patrician, and less overtly identified with the party establishment. The unlikely Ted Cruz aside, not one candidate in this race will provide all the red meat the base wants, but until Jeb Bush gives a sign that he’s able to remake himself for the 2014 incarnation of his party, rather than the 1998 one that existed when he first claimed the Tallahassee governor’s mansion, I’m going to consider him yesterday’s news.

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