If you are one of those political junkies who believe appearances on the Sunday news talk shows are a good barometer of the importance of political personalities, you might be forgiven for thinking that Jeb Bush is the most consequential Republican on the planet this week. Via the miracle of taped interviews, the former Florida governor and presidential son/brother performed the impressive feat of appearing on virtually every one of the network and cable shows yesterday. The motive for this deluge of Jebmania was ostensibly to promote the new book he has written with Clint Bolick on immigration reform. But most of the buzz as well as a good deal of the questions posed to him were about his political future, not his generally thoughtful ideas about immigration or education, two issues on which he has always been among the more insightful members of his party. Yet having pointedly refused to rule out a 2016 run for the presidency, any attempt on the part of his camp to deny that the purpose of this public relations blitz is to start the ball rolling toward another Bush presidency can only be described as disingenuous.
Ironically, the most endearing moment of his big TV morning was also the one that betrayed how out of touch he is with his party’s present, let alone its future. It came in response to a question from Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, in which he was asked about the impact of his brother’s political legacy on his own future. “I don’t think there’s any Bush baggage,” said Jeb who then went on to say “I love my brother, I’m proud of his accomplishments. I love my dad. I am proud to be a Bush.” Loyalty is a great virtue and Jeb, who has long been thought to be the biggest policy wonk of the family, has it in spades. No matter how they feel about the other Bushes, Republicans love that about him. But if he really thinks it is time for the GOP to nominate another member of the patrician family that passes for what is left of what might be called the Republican establishment, then he might not be as smart as a lot of us think he is.
I agree with Pete Wehner that the attempt of some on the right to read Jeb Bush out of the conservative movement or to label him as a RINO is ridiculous and counterproductive. Jeb deserves a hearing for his ideas and any test of conservative ideological purity that excludes him is a blueprint for making the GOP a permanent minority. If the goal is to put forward a potential president who is articulate, presentable and possessed of a raft of realistic proposals on the key issues of the day, Republicans could do worse than Jeb Bush in 2016–and might very well do so. Indeed, they did worse than him in the last two presidential elections when they put forward John McCain and Mitt Romney.
But having said that, the notion that the party is waiting patiently for another member of their royal family to lead them to the promised land is patently absurd.
The Bush baggage is real. As I wrote last week, conservatives have good reason to think the public’s continued willingness to blame George W. Bush for the state of the economy is unfair. But as President Obama’s successful re-election campaign last year proved, polls that show the majority of the public feel this way are all too accurate.
Sadly for Bush, anyone who wanted conclusive proof that he is part of the party’s past rather than its future need only look at one of the central recommendations of his book. Though billed as a manifesto for immigration reform, Bush and Bolick stopped short of calling for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Perhaps that seemed like the most realistic stance for a conservative to take on that issue when the book was delivered to the publisher last year, but in the meantime opinion shifted. With a bipartisan group including conservative star Senator Marco Rubio endorsing such a path, Jeb’s book was already obsolete the moment it rolled off the presses. His claim to be an opinion leader on the issue is empty.
The current depth of the GOP bench is such that Jeb, who might have been considered one of the few bright Republicans with a future a few years ago, has been displaced before he even got a chance to shine on his own in the national spotlight. Some of those new leaders, like Rand Paul, may be pushing the party in a negative direction, but for good or for ill the next Republican presidential nominee will not be a retread. Neither the biggest publicity machine in the world nor the genius of his brother’s guru Karl Rove would be powerful enough to foist another Bush on the GOP in 2016.