If Jeb was just a random former governor, that wouldn’t be big news. After all, pretty much every Governor sees themself as a future president. Of course, Jeb is not just a random former governor. He’s the son of one president, and the brother of another. Clearly, the Bushes know how to win the presidency. Can they do it again?
Had Jeb Bush won his 1994 campaign for governor of Florida, this probably wouldn’t be a question. Jeb was considered the go-getter in the family, and while both he and his older brother George ran campaigns for governor that year, it was accepted by many observers that Jeb was the Bush brother with the bright political future.
Jeb lost, however, to Lawton Chiles. George won his election in Texas, while Jeb wouldn’t win office until 1998, too late to challenge for the 2000 election. George had 5 years in office, and his father’s network of donors and supporters; he won the presidency in 2000, at least technically.
Had George W. Bush’s presidency not been an unmitigated disaster, Jeb might have had a shot in 2008 or 2012. Of course, Dubya’s time in office was best known as a time of a stuttering economy and a disastrous war of choice, punctuated by a near-depression.
This is the reason that Republicans have spent the last five years pretending that George W. Bush was never actually president. Occasionally, a Republican will mention Obama’s “predecessor,” but you’ll rarely hear them grapple with the policies and positions of a wildly unpopular president.
Jeb Bush has no such luxury. Even if you credit Jeb with being the more competent of the Bush brothers, you’re still comparing him with Dubya.
Jeb would like to be viewed more like his father, George H.W. Bush, who is remembered as a relatively moderate, pragmatic Republican. Unfortunately, that’s not an image he can lean on too heavily; the Republican base still is bitter about George H.W. Bush’s willingness to accept tax increases to lower the deficit, and the elder Bush was a one-term president. Since Herbert Hoover lost in 1928, only Bush and Jimmy Carter have failed to win re-election.
Moreover, it’s questionable whether Jeb can position himself as a new Poppy. Dubya, you may recall, ran in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative,” then spent the next eight years demonstrating a startling lack of compassion coupled with something beyond conservatism. As the younger President Bush once said, fool me once…you can’t get fooled again.
That’s not to say that there’s no good side to Jeb running — at least if you’re a Democrat. A Jeb Bush candidacy probably prevents a presidential run by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. It also makes life more difficult for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as both Jeb and Christie would be working to win the same voters — the moderate, sensible part of the GOP.
But can Jeb win? I doubt it. George W. Bush was a startlingly bad president. No matter what Jeb does, he can’t avoid being connected to his older brother. Maybe the American people’s memory is shorter than I think it is, but I just don’t believe the country is ready for another President Bush.
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