Connoisseurs of hinge-moments – those instants at which a country’s future changes – have long-appreciated the 1994 Florida gubernatorial election. Jeb Bush lost. Meanwhile, across the country, his elder brother George was elected governor of Texas. George Junior complained – whined, perhaps – that Barbara and George Senior grieved Jeb’s loss more than they celebrated George’s victory.
Until that moment, however, Jeb had been thought the Bush boy more likely to succeed on the national stage. Over the course of a single night in 1994, however, the wheel turned back to George. We know what happened next.
Twenty years later there are people still determined to give Jeb a chance. According to the Washington Post “influential Republicans” are working to drag and draft Jeb into the race for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination.
Well, why not? Nothing could better honour the American Dream than a contest pitting Jeb Bush against Hillary Clinton. True, old cynics and salty curmudgeons might chunter about the Republic’s lost virtue or something but, hell, cable news would love it and if that’s not all that counts it still counts for quite a lot. A soap opera to make you puke but one you can’t help but watch. What’s not to like?
“Influential Republicans” means, of course, immensely wealthy Republicans. Many of Mitt Romney’s fundraisers are said to be waiting for the chance to raise cash for Bush. And no wonder. He has impeccable establishment credentials.
This kite – it doesn’t merit being dubbed a plan yet – is flown as a sign the party’s money-wing is unhappy with the choices available to it. Chris Christie has some baggage. Marco Rubio is kinda callow and not entirely baggage-free either. Rand Paul is a no-no for all the obvious reasons. And who knows what other mistakes lurk out there waiting for their 15 minutes of party-wrecking fame?
You know what you get with Jeb. Even if he’s been out of office since 2006.
But, really, it is hard not to read such stories and conclude that the Republican party is exhausted. Since (from a conservative perspective) Jeb’s father and brother each disappointed – albeit in rather different ways – there’s something quaintly optimistic about suggesting third time lucky with the Bushes.
And it’s not as though Jeb’s a home run or a slam dunk either. He’s hopelessly soft on immigration, for one thing, and rather too fond of empowering the Department of Education for another. That’s before you even consider the possibility – faint, I know! – of Bush Fatigue.
It’s not that Jeb’s an utterly hopeless candidate. Nor, at 61, is he too old. But, still, the disadvantages seem acute. Do we really want to go through all this stuff all over again?
Granted, Hillary Clinton’s reasons for running for the Presidency (we assume she is running) are hardly any more noble. It’s about time she enjoyed her turn; about time, too, America elected a woman Commander-in-Chief. And that’s about it. An attractive combination of entitlement and identity politics. Ask not what I will do; ask instead how my historic presidency will make you feel. Vote Hillary, consider yourself a decent person. And stick one to the Vast Right-Wng Conspiracy while you’re at it.
What a joyous prospect. Hillary might be hard to beat anyway but even a numbskull could craft an effective advert asking Americans if they felt like electing the third President Bush or the first female President.
That assumes Jeb might win the GOP nomination. Which is far from obvious. Romney beat a field of midgets and, anyway, was the next guy in line from four years previously. Jeb might call on a formidable machine and have access to a vast war-chest but he’s not the next guy (there is no next guy) and he’s been so far from the fray for so long it’s not obvious or guaranteed that he retains the enthusiasm or dedication required to play it as though you are serious about winning.
Stranger things have happened but it’s hard to think of many stranger than returning to the Bush well for a third time. Welcome to America, a land where just about anyone can become President. Hell, we elected Dubya didn’t we?
“He would be outstanding” says Henry Kissinger. “He is someone who is experienced, moderate and thoughtful.” Maybe so but those are not necessarily qualities useful in the primary. They might even be considered grievous handicaps. And could you receive a more telling endorsement than one from old Henry K? It takes insidery-insiderness to a whole new level.
True, the Republican party is usually wise enough to choose the most electable candidate. Perhaps that would be Jeb but it’s not obvious it would be.
And unless Bush can begin as the presumptive favourite it seems unlikely, I should guess, he will be interested in running at all. Which is one reason why I think these calls to draft Jeb should most sensibly be seen as desperate cries for help.
He won’t run (I think!). But, secretly and even though we know it would be appalling, we’d quite like him to. Think of the soap opera!