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Jeb Bush and 2016

I’m a little late in doing so, but I wanted to circle back to Jonathan’s post on Jeb Bush, which praised his strengths but also stated “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.”

Is it true that Bush is “the GOP’s past, not its future”?

I have a few thoughts to that question, the first of which is that Jeb Bush (unlike some others) seems to me to be genuinely ambivalent about running and may well not. But for the sake of the argument, assume he does. Would he win?

I have no idea. It may well be that others like Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Paul Ryan run and would do exceedingly well and that Bush runs and does poorly. Or it may be that Bush does spectacularly well.

The point is, we really don’t know. What we can say with some confidence, I think, is that Bush, if he decided to run, would be considered a major player and his fundraising would be formidable. As for the fact that he left office in 2007, his last name, and all the rest, those things matter a good deal more before a primary (when pundits speculate about the strengths and weaknesses of candidates) than they necessarily do during a primary.

That is to say, once you get into a presidential primary, what matters is how you conduct yourself–in debates, in retail politics, in organizing in key states, in the ad wars, and all the rest. Republicans will cast their vote on the person they see and hear in 2016. If that individual speaks and acts in a way that inspires them, it can overcome a lot of things. People tend to vote in the moment, in real time, on real records. And if Bush runs, they’ll judge him against his flesh-and-blood opponents.

Remember: In 1980, Reagan was no shoo-in. The concerns some people had about him at the time were his age (he was 69 years old at the time), that he was an ex-governor who had twice failed to win the nomination, that he was both too extreme and had deviated from conservative orthodoxy on raising taxes and signing pro-choice legislation, and more. (George Will wrote a Newsweek column at the time that I read as signaling he preferred Howard Baker to be the nominee.) But Reagan rose to the occasion and overcame several political near-death experiences. Reagan’s sheer talent, political and intellectual, carried the day.

That doesn’t mean the issues Jonathan raises about Jeb Bush aren’t important. It just means they aren’t insurmountable or dispositive. I’d be cautious at this juncture in making very many sweeping judgments about the 2016 race. Would Bush be a better nominee than Ryan, or Rubio, or Christie, or Jindal, or others? That’s what the primaries are for. (For the record, I don’t have a dog in this hunt, since several potential 2016 candidates are people I know, worked with, and admire.) I’ve been around politics long enough to know that what matters is how individuals perform once they’re on center stage–and you really don’t know how they’ll perform until they do.


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