Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush and the 2016 GOP Field

George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

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George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

Why do I hope the GOP contest will include people I’m not wild about? Because I want as many serious and substantial figures in the race as possible, in order to have the best representatives of various currents of thought (and style) within conservatism make their case. These debates can be clarifying, in a healthy way. (Some of us still regret that Governor Mitch Daniels, one of the most impressive minds and political talents in the GOP, didn’t run in 2012.)

In addition, people who look good on paper and sound impressive when being interviewed on Meet the Press don’t necessarily do well in presidential contests, where the scrutiny and intensity are far beyond what anyone who hasn’t run can imagine. Some people you might think would do superbly well in a presidential contest flame out; others who one might think would flounder rise to the occasion. You never know until the contest begins. So my attitude is the more the better, at least above a certain threshold. (Please, no more figures like Herman Cain, Ron Paul, or Michele Bachmann.)


The 2016 presidential contest should be winnable, but it won’t be easy. Democrats have important advantages right now when it comes to presidential contests. Which is why for Republicans to prevail it will take the best the GOP can produce. Who is that individual right now?

I have no idea. And neither do you. 

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Will the 2016 GOP Nomination Turn on Foreign Policy?

The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

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The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

It’s certainly true that a complete 2016 preview would include voter opinions on Scott Walker and probably Paul Ryan as well–even though the latter does not appear to be gearing up for a presidential run, he was on the ticket last time and has been a leader of the “reform conservatism” caucus in Congress. But this poll isn’t a zero-sum “who would you vote for” survey, so the results still tell us a lot.

There is more opposition to a Paul candidacy and a Jeb Bush candidacy than to either Rubio or Cruz. In the case of Bush, his last name–as he recently acknowledged–probably has much to do with it. The opposition to Paul is noteworthy. The Kentucky libertarian is far from the divisive figure his father was as a candidate and congressman. Paul’s brand of conservatism has even hinted at a bipartisan appeal, especially on privacy and criminal-justice reform, without earning him the dreaded RINO label.

In fact, the area of Paul’s ideology that would breed concern among the party faithful is his outlook on foreign policy. If that’s the case, it’s significant. Paul’s admirers have always thought the most potent threat within the GOP to Paul’s anti-interventionist foreign policy came from the party elites. That’s one way his supporters have dismissed opposition to his views on foreign affairs: as neoconservative holdovers from the Bush administration.

That’s never really been the case, though. Indeed, if Paul has establishment support in the GOP it’s among the Bakerite realists. There is something ironic about treating a younger generation of conservatives–the George W. Bush team, largely–as has-beens whose old road is rapidly aging while drawing conceptual support and guidance from the prior generation–the George H.W. Bush team, largely. That doesn’t mean Paul’s views are unpopular. They have plenty of support, as evidenced by the fact that while more voters want Christie to sit out this election than run, that’s not even close to true of Paul.

But this does get at one possible obstacle to Paul’s run for the nomination. He is unlikely to have the big-government opponent he’d prefer to contrast himself with. His popularity is due in part to the fact that libertarian economic policy has become more accepted in the GOP in recent years, but that same popularity deprives him of his opposite. Instead, he’s likely to run against a range of candidates who mostly agree with him–and the base–on economic matters but not on foreign policy. It would be a fairly unexpected twist if the post-Iraq and Afghanistan GOP primary turned on foreign policy, but it might just be heading in that direction.

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Why Bridgegate Won’t Clear Jeb’s Path

Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

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Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he will make a decision on whether to run for president in 2016 at “the right time” — later this year.

“I don’t wake up each day saying, ‘Now what am I going [to] do today to make the decision?’ I’m deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year,” Bush said in an interview Wednesday with Miami CBS affiliate WFOR.

The brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush said he will make up his mind based on whether he can run an uplifting campaign.

Jeb Bush is also pushing back, ever so diplomatically, against his mother’s comments last year that “there are other families” besides the Bushes, and it’s time to give someone else a turn. After Jeb’s brother, George W. Bush, was asked about the comments by Jay Leno (and said his brother would make a great president), CNN quoted Jeb’s response: “Even when I was a teenager, I’d listen to her respectfully and never always followed what she said, even though she was probably right. And now at the age of 60, I really feel I don’t have to listen to every word she says,” he said, drawing laughs. “At some point you got to make these decisions like a grown up.”

But his name came up on Leno’s show again this week, in a more positive mention:

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner made his first ever appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Thursday, just to get some facetime with Leno before he leaves the show on Feb. 6. …

Asked what he thought of the upcoming presidential race in 2016, Boehner said, “I’m not endorsing anybody. But Jeb Bush is my friend and, frankly, I think he’d make a great president.”

Jeb Bush not only has the gubernatorial success and moderate credentials to match those of Christie, but he is also thought to have the crossover appeal to voters outside the GOP’s traditional support blocs that Christie does. So it’s reasonable to assume that Bush, who in fact has picked fewer fights with the grassroots than Christie has, could step into Christie’s shoes. But does that make him, like Christie was thought to be, the frontrunner?

Probably not, because Bush’s path to the nomination would be complicated in a few ways. The most obvious is his last name, and the GOP, with a bevy of young stars, will probably only be more hesitant to nominate Bush now that it appears Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner. One advantage Republicans would have over Clinton is that she represents a bygone era both for the country in general and the Democratic Party in particular, having already spent eight years in the White House of a president with a very different political agenda than the one she served as secretary of state. It’s doubtful the grassroots, so opposed to the GOP’s history of next-in-linism, would be satisfied with a Bush-Clinton election.

Additionally, Christie wasn’t the only prospective candidate standing in Jeb Bush’s way. The general consensus was that either Bush or Marco Rubio would run in 2016, but not both. They served the same state and would thus split their constituency, most likely ensuring neither would win. Would the party prefer to run Jeb or Rubio? The latter seems the better bet at this point.

Competing with the senators won’t be easy, considering Rand Paul’s popularity and Ted Cruz’s Texas network. And the governors, like Scott Walker and Mike Pence, would thrive against a wounded (or absent) Christie. Luck has never been on Jeb Bush’s side with regard to the presidency: no one doubts his qualifications, experience, intelligence, diligence, or sense of service, to say nothing of his accomplishments in office in areas like education reform. But even with Christie weakened by bridgegate, his path to the presidency is strewn with roadblocks.

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What’s the GOP Foreign-Policy Alternative?

Republicans are doing a great job of critiquing the flawed implementation of ObamaCare but a terrible job of critiquing Obama’s flawed foreign policy, even as its failures–for instance, in Syria–become more manifest. This is in large part because Republicans can’t agree among themselves on what the alternative should be: More intervention or less? More defense spending or less?

Into this vacuum comes Rosa Brooks, a liberal law professor and former Obama appointee at the Department of Defense, with a withering critique of Obama’s relations with the U.S. military based on interviews with anonymous generals and officials.

She writes in Politico Magazine:

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Republicans are doing a great job of critiquing the flawed implementation of ObamaCare but a terrible job of critiquing Obama’s flawed foreign policy, even as its failures–for instance, in Syria–become more manifest. This is in large part because Republicans can’t agree among themselves on what the alternative should be: More intervention or less? More defense spending or less?

Into this vacuum comes Rosa Brooks, a liberal law professor and former Obama appointee at the Department of Defense, with a withering critique of Obama’s relations with the U.S. military based on interviews with anonymous generals and officials.

She writes in Politico Magazine:

Most of the military leaders I interviewed said they believed that military recommendations often go unheeded by senior White House staff, who now assume that a risk-averse Pentagon exaggerates every difficulty and inflates every request for troops or money. This assumption turns discussions into antagonistic negotiating sessions. As one retired general puts it, “If you said, ‘We need 40,000 troops,’ they’d immediately say, ‘20,000.’ Not because they thought that was the right number, but they just took it for granted that any number coming from the military was inflated.”

“Sometimes you want to tell them, ‘This isn’t a political bargaining process,’” another retired senior military official says ruefully. “Where the military comes in high, they counter low, and we settle on an option that splits the difference. Needless to say, the right answer is not always in the middle.”

A former White House official with Pentagon experience says White House staff often remain willfully uninformed about the logic behind military recommendations: They “don’t want to take the time to go through the slide deck or get the full briefing. Basically, they don’t want to know.”

This strikes me as essentially accurate–it helps to account for the White House’s promotion of an “unbelievably small” airstrike on Syria in the face of military doubts that this would achieve anything. It helps to account, too, for the president’s imposition of a timeline on the Afghanistan surge which military leaders opposed because they knew it would undermine the troops’ effectiveness and embolden the Taliban. Not to mention the president’s failure to do more to renew the mandate of U.S. forces in Iraq, in spite of military urging to be more active. This led to the departure of U.S. troops at the end of 2011, and has allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to be reborn.

And then, of course, there is the White House’s continual failure to cut a deal with Congress that would allow the repeal of sequestration, which is devastating our military readiness. Republicans are at least equally to blame here, but that doesn’t let the president off the hook. Obama, it seems, favors only one type of military action–drone strikes and commando raids–and is prepared to see the larger military wither as long as Special Operations capabilities are kept more or less intact.

There is plenty here for Republicans to criticize. The problem is that Republicans, by and large, have endorsed sequestration; have not endorsed doing more to arm and support the moderate Syrian opposition, which would most likely involve the imposition of a no-fly zone and air strikes; did not speak out loudly in favor of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq; and now are not speaking out in favor of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The upshot is that U.S. foreign policy and national-security policy are a mess, as even many Democrats admit, and yet there is no viable alternative being offered by the Republican Party, which has somehow managed to forfeit its long-standing advantage on national-security issues. Indeed the loudest voices coming from the GOP are those of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who call for an isolationism that dare not speak its name. There is a vacuum here that Chris Christie and Jeb Bush and others could conceivably fill, but they need to start speaking up.

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Is Benghazi Taking Its Toll on Hillary Clinton’s Poll Numbers?

In discussing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects, media commentators have made a common and constant error, which I tried to point out repeatedly. They noted Clinton’s high approval ratings as secretary of state, and suggested those numbers buoyed her chances in 2016. But her approval numbers at State were unimpressive: her predecessors had those numbers too, and some had approval ratings even higher than Clinton. Secretary of state is viewed as an apolitical position and the face of the American government abroad, and as such earns inflated poll numbers.

I pointed out that those numbers not only don’t portend future political success (anyone remember President Colin Powell, who left office with a 77 percent approval rating at State?), but they would also come down to earth once Clinton left Foggy Bottom and began to re-enter the political arena. And so they have. Quinnipiac’s new survey finds Clinton’s favorability rating dropping to 52 percent (from Quinnipiac’s previous finding of 61). Her once-daunting lead over hypothetical challengers has narrowed to a surmountable 8 percent over Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.

And all that comes before Clinton actually begins campaigning–that is, if she decides to run. It would be difficult to beat her in a Democratic primary, but even the typical primary campaign process would expose some of her flaws as a candidate, as Keith Koffler writes in Politico. Clinton is hardworking, determined, sharp, and well connected, but that hasn’t stopped her from being, in Koffler’s determination, “the most overrated politician of her generation.” Koffler gets it exactly right when he notes that after her failure to produce results in health care, “The rest of Clinton’s record reads like an excruciatingly long CV that seeks to overwhelm with content but out of which nothing particularly impressive pops out.”

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In discussing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects, media commentators have made a common and constant error, which I tried to point out repeatedly. They noted Clinton’s high approval ratings as secretary of state, and suggested those numbers buoyed her chances in 2016. But her approval numbers at State were unimpressive: her predecessors had those numbers too, and some had approval ratings even higher than Clinton. Secretary of state is viewed as an apolitical position and the face of the American government abroad, and as such earns inflated poll numbers.

I pointed out that those numbers not only don’t portend future political success (anyone remember President Colin Powell, who left office with a 77 percent approval rating at State?), but they would also come down to earth once Clinton left Foggy Bottom and began to re-enter the political arena. And so they have. Quinnipiac’s new survey finds Clinton’s favorability rating dropping to 52 percent (from Quinnipiac’s previous finding of 61). Her once-daunting lead over hypothetical challengers has narrowed to a surmountable 8 percent over Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.

And all that comes before Clinton actually begins campaigning–that is, if she decides to run. It would be difficult to beat her in a Democratic primary, but even the typical primary campaign process would expose some of her flaws as a candidate, as Keith Koffler writes in Politico. Clinton is hardworking, determined, sharp, and well connected, but that hasn’t stopped her from being, in Koffler’s determination, “the most overrated politician of her generation.” Koffler gets it exactly right when he notes that after her failure to produce results in health care, “The rest of Clinton’s record reads like an excruciatingly long CV that seeks to overwhelm with content but out of which nothing particularly impressive pops out.”

That might not have been such a weakness before Benghazi. Genuinely revolutionary foreign-policy accomplishments emanating from the State Department are the exception, not the rule. The fact that the dispute over Kashmir remains unresolved is not a failure of each American secretary of state, and the same goes for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other such issues. If anything, a bit of modesty from America’s diplomats would do them some good. But Benghazi changed the calculus on her tenure because Clinton’s massive failure of leadership, organization, attention, and accountability in the death of an American ambassador and three others tips the scales in the wrong direction for Clinton.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times conducted one of its “Room for Debate” roundtables on Clinton and her legacy at State. No one was able to drum up a genuine accomplishment, because there weren’t any. She was praised for traveling a lot, which seems damning with faint praise at best. She was lauded as a voice for women’s rights, which is important but which yielded no tangible results. No doubt she will use this experience in the campaign by name-dropping world leaders and other impressive names from her Rolodex. But sounding like a living, breathing Tom Friedman column isn’t going to win over many of those who don’t already support her.

It isn’t just Benghazi, either; there isn’t much for Clinton to brag about in the developments of the Arab Spring or her administration’s silent acceptance of an overtly anti-Semitic new Islamist tyrant in Egypt. Her mishandling of the Russian “reset” is a topic she’ll probably want to ignore as well. Which leaves the mostly superficial “pivot” to Asia. Yet “Vote for Hillary: She’s been to Laos” strikes me as an underwhelming campaign theme.

None of this may matter in a Democratic primary, however, since her party seems desperate to hand her the nomination and because the Democrats have for a decade run solely on identity politics and stayed miles away from serious policy discussions. And whatever her flaws, Clinton would be a far better nominee than her would-be rivals like Martin O’Malley and Joe Biden–though Biden’s chances would depend much on how the Obama presidency ends.

But for a general election, it should matter a great deal. Clinton is no longer an up-and-coming party insurgent. She is a veteran near the end of her political career, and ought to have some accomplishments–or any, in fact. She will have to make the argument that if they elect her, voters can expect more than just speeches and photo-ops. That might be a tougher sell than her fans realize.

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Listen to Your Mother, Jeb

If there’s anything that most of us had drilled into our heads growing up, it’s this phrase: “Listen to your mother.” Mothers aren’t always right, but it’s never a bad policy to listen to the person who gave birth to you and generally has your best interests in mind. So let’s hope former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was watching the “Today” show this morning, when his mother, sister-in-law and two nieces were being interviewed by Matt Lauer about the opening of the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas.

When asked whether her younger son Jeb should run for president, Barbara Bush, already the wife and the mother of presidents, left no doubt about her views:

He’s by far the best qualified man, but no, I really don’t. I think it’s a great country, there are a lot of great families, and, it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.

The immediate reaction from most of the press as well as the other three family members present seemed to be that this was “Barbara being Barbara,” as Bush 41’s wife once again proved she was the most candid and outspoken member of the family. But those promoting the Jeb Bush boomlet should listen to her.

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If there’s anything that most of us had drilled into our heads growing up, it’s this phrase: “Listen to your mother.” Mothers aren’t always right, but it’s never a bad policy to listen to the person who gave birth to you and generally has your best interests in mind. So let’s hope former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was watching the “Today” show this morning, when his mother, sister-in-law and two nieces were being interviewed by Matt Lauer about the opening of the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas.

When asked whether her younger son Jeb should run for president, Barbara Bush, already the wife and the mother of presidents, left no doubt about her views:

He’s by far the best qualified man, but no, I really don’t. I think it’s a great country, there are a lot of great families, and, it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.

The immediate reaction from most of the press as well as the other three family members present seemed to be that this was “Barbara being Barbara,” as Bush 41’s wife once again proved she was the most candid and outspoken member of the family. But those promoting the Jeb Bush boomlet should listen to her.

Mrs. Bush seemed to understand something that other members of the clan don’t. There is something slightly unseemly about the idea that there is only one family that can produce a president. The United States isn’t some Central American banana republic where a few great names dominate politics, or at least it shouldn’t be. The greatest strength of the Republican Party is its deep bench. They have several strong potential candidates who are not linked to the George W. Bush presidency. While none is perfect, the idea of pushing them aside in order to give another Bush a chance, even one as talented and experienced as Jeb, would be a terrible idea.

The former first lady also seemed to have a stronger grasp of the political math of 2016 than a lot of supposedly smart people who have been speaking of Jeb as a potential juggernaut. She said he would inherit all of her husband and son’s enemies while only getting “half of our friends.” That isn’t a formula for success.

Although hers is a family that seems particularly dedicated to public service (her father-in-law was a U.S. senator), perhaps she has seen the beating her husband and eldest son have taken and doesn’t want Jeb to have to go through the same process. Mrs. Bush also seems to understand that its time for her party to turn the page.

There’s nothing wrong with great families, but while the idea of a Bush-Clinton clan rematch in 2016 might amuse journalists, it doesn’t speak well for our democracy that we can’t get beyond these famous names. It’s time to move on. Let’s hope Jeb Bush listens to his mother and doesn’t put the Republicans or the nation through another round of dispiriting dynastic politics.

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Is Bush Fatigue Real or Imagined?

This is a big week for the Bush family as the opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library and museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University has brought the 43rd president’s legacy into focus. The debate over his record has been fierce but, as Peter Wehner noted yesterday a Washington Post-ABC News poll gave Bush supporters some long-needed comfort as it showed his approval rating was roughly equivalent to that of his successor. Some are interpreting this result as an indicator that the day Republicans had waited for had finally arrived as the public finally realizes Bush’s worth while catching on to Barack Obama’s shortcomings.

The GOP celebration may, however, be a bit premature. One poll does not constitute a trend and one would think that the last presidential campaign would have cured Republicans of their habit of placing their faith in polls that produced results that pleased them. The timing of the survey, which was taken last week in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, may also have influenced the numbers as it highlighted the one issue—homeland security and terrorism—on which President Bush always scored relatively well even when his popularity was its nadir.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that what we’re seeing in the WaPo poll is at least the beginning of a shift in public opinion about Bush 43. As I’ve written before, the opprobrium with which his presidency has been treated since he left office is largely undeserved. He made his share of mistakes but, as Bush supporters are pointing out this week, his defense of the homeland after 9/11 was his greatest achievement and the keynote of his presidency. If the worm is turning on Bush, this might mean the path is clearing for a third member of the family to try for the White House. That’s the conceit of much of the recent coverage of Jeb Bush, whose obvious interest in a 2016 run is also being highlighted by the big party in Dallas. But any assumptions that the uptick in his brother’s poll numbers mean that there is no Bush fatigue in the country are probably unfounded.

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This is a big week for the Bush family as the opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library and museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University has brought the 43rd president’s legacy into focus. The debate over his record has been fierce but, as Peter Wehner noted yesterday a Washington Post-ABC News poll gave Bush supporters some long-needed comfort as it showed his approval rating was roughly equivalent to that of his successor. Some are interpreting this result as an indicator that the day Republicans had waited for had finally arrived as the public finally realizes Bush’s worth while catching on to Barack Obama’s shortcomings.

The GOP celebration may, however, be a bit premature. One poll does not constitute a trend and one would think that the last presidential campaign would have cured Republicans of their habit of placing their faith in polls that produced results that pleased them. The timing of the survey, which was taken last week in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, may also have influenced the numbers as it highlighted the one issue—homeland security and terrorism—on which President Bush always scored relatively well even when his popularity was its nadir.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that what we’re seeing in the WaPo poll is at least the beginning of a shift in public opinion about Bush 43. As I’ve written before, the opprobrium with which his presidency has been treated since he left office is largely undeserved. He made his share of mistakes but, as Bush supporters are pointing out this week, his defense of the homeland after 9/11 was his greatest achievement and the keynote of his presidency. If the worm is turning on Bush, this might mean the path is clearing for a third member of the family to try for the White House. That’s the conceit of much of the recent coverage of Jeb Bush, whose obvious interest in a 2016 run is also being highlighted by the big party in Dallas. But any assumptions that the uptick in his brother’s poll numbers mean that there is no Bush fatigue in the country are probably unfounded.

As former Republican Party chair Haley Barbour told Politico today, the calculations about Jeb’s presidential hopes are inextricably tied up with the whole notion of Bush fatigue. Barbour is probably right when he says, “If Jeb’s last name was Brown instead of Bush, he’d probably be the front-runner for the Republican nomination.”

As a successful former governor of crucial state with a strong conservative record and a history of appealing to Hispanics, he fits the profile of exactly what the GOP is looking for in 2016. Even more than that, as one of the party’s most thoughtful voices on issues like education and immigration, he’s well prepared to make a strong case for himself as someone linked to the party’s future rather than its past.

But as Barbour says, Jeb’s name is Bush, not Brown. And his belief that there is no such thing as Bush fatigue is profoundly mistaken.

No matter how qualified Jeb Bush may be, Republicans understand that, like it or not, his presidential candidacy would inevitably become a referendum on his family’s place in American history. His own statements, both this year and last, defending his brother make it abundantly clear that the issue will follow him around wherever he goes even if he wants to talk about everything else.

Bush fatigue may be declining as the years pass and Bush 43’s accomplishments are recognized and Katrina, the Iraq War and the financial meltdown are no longer in the news. But a Jeb Bush candidacy will serve as an excuse for the left and the media to double down on their past attacks rather than allowing them to fade from our collective memory. Anyone who thinks the same elements that largely control the mainstream media and popular culture that buried the second President Bush under an avalanche of vituperation are not prepared to renew their attacks is underestimating the hatred that he engendered on the left.

During a week when George W. Bush is finally getting a little credit after years of being wrongly slammed as the man who lied us into war and crashed the economy, it may be possible for his family to dream of an unprecedented presidential trifecta. But Republicans should be wary of their ambitions. No matter how strong their arguments about Bush 43’s virtues, one poll doesn’t change the fact that his presidency is still associated with a hurricane, missing weapons of mass destruction, a bloody and inconclusive war and the bailout of Wall Street as the economy tottered. Sadly, Bush fatigue is not a figment of a hostile media’s imagination. GOP hopes in 2016 depend on convincing the American people their party is the hope of the American future after eight dismal years of Obama. Another Bush candidacy is a recipe for GOP disaster.

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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.

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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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Jeb Is the GOP Past, Not Its Future

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.

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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. 

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Conservatism and the Search for Apostates

During a recent interview on NBC’s The Today Show, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was asked whether the Republican Party should put revenue increases on the table in order to reach a grand bargain.

Governor Bush said it’s hard to imagine that, after the tax increases that went into effect earlier this year, one could argue we have a revenue problem. When pressed by Matt Lauer, however, whether there was any “wiggle room,” Bush said, “There may be [room for revenue] if the president is sincere about dealing with our structural problems.” And he went on to speak about the importance of growth as a way to increase revenues.

It didn’t take long for Bush’s critics to strike. As a story  in the Washington Post put it:

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During a recent interview on NBC’s The Today Show, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was asked whether the Republican Party should put revenue increases on the table in order to reach a grand bargain.

Governor Bush said it’s hard to imagine that, after the tax increases that went into effect earlier this year, one could argue we have a revenue problem. When pressed by Matt Lauer, however, whether there was any “wiggle room,” Bush said, “There may be [room for revenue] if the president is sincere about dealing with our structural problems.” And he went on to speak about the importance of growth as a way to increase revenues.

It didn’t take long for Bush’s critics to strike. As a story  in the Washington Post put it:

[Bush] drew a sharp critique from anti-tax activist Grover Norquist… Norquist likened Bush’s comments to “throwing marbles at the feet” of GOP lawmakers. “If you’re trying to introduce yourself to the modern Republican Party outside of Florida, probably best not to start with a discussion about how much you could be talked into a tax increase,” Norquist said. “People are looking for someone who’s tough, and you’re saying, ‘I’d fold.’”        

Craig Shirley, in the context of a broader attack on Bush writes, “A Bush speaking at the Reagan dinner [the annual Conservative Political Action Conference dinner] is for True Believers mind-boggling.” Shirley goes on to say, “Jeb Bush might also explain his call this week for even higher taxes on the American worker.”

Now both Norquist and Shirley have, in different ways, made useful contributions to the conservative cause–Norquist on policy and Shirley through his fine book on the 1980 Reagan campaign. I’ve had cordial communications with both; but in this instance their criticisms strike me as misguided.

For one thing, Jeb Bush was a highly successful conservative governor. To therefore characterize an invitation to Bush to speak at CPAC’s annual dinner as “mind-boggling” is itself a bit mind-boggling. (It’s worth noting that Bush spoke last week at the Reagan Library where he was warmly welcomed.)

In addition, Bush was not calling for higher taxes on American workers; he was saying that if Barack Obama was serious about dealing with our structural problems–meaning our unsustainable entitlement system–there may be room for an increase in revenues, which could be done by closing loopholes and deductions instead of increasing tax rates. Bush wasn’t saying he expected the president to tackle entitlements in a serious manner; he was merely answering a hypothetical in a reasonable way.

But the main point I want to underscore is the danger to conservatism when someone like Jeb Bush (or Mitch Daniels, or Bob McDonnell, or Chris Christie) is considered an apostate.

Let’s consider Bush’s record as governor. While Bush never signed an anti-tax pledge, he never raised taxes. In fact, he cut taxes every year he was governor (covering eight years and totaling $20 billion). 

Ronald Reagan, by contrast, signed into law what his biographer Lou Cannon called “the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor in the history of the United States”–one four times as large as the previous record set by Governor Pat Brown–as well as the nation’s first no-fault divorce law and legislation liberalizing California’s abortion laws, which even people sympathetic to Reagan concede “led to an explosion of abortions in the nation’s largest state.” (Reagan didn’t anticipate the consequences of the law and deeply regretted his action.)

Now imagine the Norquist and Shirley standard being applied to Reagan in the 1970s. If Jeb Bush’s comments unleashed heated attacks, even given his sterling anti-tax record, think about what Reagan’s support for unprecedented tax increases–including higher taxes on top rates, sales taxes, bank and corporate taxes, and the inheritance tax–would have elicited. The Gipper would have been accused of being a RINO, a pseudo-conservative, unprincipled, and a member of the loathsome Establishment. Fortunately for Reagan (and for America) the temptation to turn conservatism into a rigid ideology was not as strong then than it is now.

To be clear: I consider Reagan to be among the greatest presidents of the 20th century and a monumental figure in the conservative movement. He shaped my political philosophy more than any other politician in my lifetime, and working in his administration was a great privilege. I’m just glad he was judged in the totality of his (conservative) acts, which were enormously impressive, and not marked out as unprincipled or a heretic because of his transgressions against conservative orthodoxy. 

What is sometimes forgotten about Reagan, I think, is that he was not only a man well grounded in political theory; he was also a supremely great politician who made thousands of decisions and compromised throughout his career, usually wisely but sometimes not. And on those rare occasions when he was criticized by movement conservatives, he was known to complain about those who wanted to go “off the cliff with all flags flying.”

It tells you something about the times in which we live that some of those who consider themselves to be the torchbearers of Reaganism are now employing a standard of purity that Reagan himself could not have met and would never have insisted on.

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Don’t Buy Into the Jeb Boomlet

Those who prefer speculating about the next presidential election rather than beating their heads against the wall trying to figure a way out of the sequester impasse got something to think about this week courtesy of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Bush, who is making the rounds of every news and talk show that will have him this week to promote a new book, generated some genuine buzz when he specifically refused to rule out running for president in 2016. Throughout the prelude to the 2012 election the younger brother of the 43rd president always avoided playing games about his presidential prospects and definitively ruled out jumping in. Thus, his decision to speak like someone who is actively considering a run has led a lot of political observers to jump to the conclusion that he not only is a candidate, but that he would be a formidable contender.

All this has set the tongues of some in the chattering classes wagging about the possibility of a Bush-Clinton rematch in which the 1992 election will be fought between the son of the Republican standard bearer and the wife of the Democrat. A Jeb-Hillary matchup is certainly a possibility. But as much as Jeb Bush is a politician and a policy advocate who deserves to be taken seriously, a dose of skepticism about the boomlet forming for him is very much in order. It is true that many Democrats love the idea of another Clinton in the White House. But if there is evidence of grass roots enthusiasm among Republicans for another Bush, even one as smart as Jeb, I haven’t seen it.

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Those who prefer speculating about the next presidential election rather than beating their heads against the wall trying to figure a way out of the sequester impasse got something to think about this week courtesy of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Bush, who is making the rounds of every news and talk show that will have him this week to promote a new book, generated some genuine buzz when he specifically refused to rule out running for president in 2016. Throughout the prelude to the 2012 election the younger brother of the 43rd president always avoided playing games about his presidential prospects and definitively ruled out jumping in. Thus, his decision to speak like someone who is actively considering a run has led a lot of political observers to jump to the conclusion that he not only is a candidate, but that he would be a formidable contender.

All this has set the tongues of some in the chattering classes wagging about the possibility of a Bush-Clinton rematch in which the 1992 election will be fought between the son of the Republican standard bearer and the wife of the Democrat. A Jeb-Hillary matchup is certainly a possibility. But as much as Jeb Bush is a politician and a policy advocate who deserves to be taken seriously, a dose of skepticism about the boomlet forming for him is very much in order. It is true that many Democrats love the idea of another Clinton in the White House. But if there is evidence of grass roots enthusiasm among Republicans for another Bush, even one as smart as Jeb, I haven’t seen it.

There have been a lot of arguments lately about the nature of the clash between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party grass roots, much of which has centered on Karl Rove. Rove was the political guru who helped put Jeb’s big brother in the White House and re-elect him, and has become the proxy figure for what passes for a Republican ruling class against which conservatives have railed. The notion of such an entity as a GOP establishment is something of a fiction, as the group of people who really did once run the party from the game rooms of exclusive country clubs and the editorial columns of the New York Herald Tribune are as extinct as the dodo. But if anybody does actually constitute a Republican establishment, it is the Bush family.

I don’t share the virulent antipathy that many Tea Partiers seem to feel for Rove. They see him as someone who is attempting to sell the party’s principles and foist mainstream go-along-to-get-along type politicians on them in the vain hope that they will be more electable than the Christine O’Donnells that the Tea Party has produced. But the lesson of the last two election cycles is that Republicans have lost as many elections with establishment duds as they have with Tea Party extremists.

Nevertheless, anyone expecting Republicans and conservatives to simply stand up and salute just because one of the Bush clan is deigning to make themselves available for the presidency is not realistic.

There might have been a time when Jeb Bush could have united both the establishment types and the Tea Partiers, who liked many of his ideas. But that boat may have sailed. He has a lot to say about issues like education and immigration (although his stand on it in his book is neither as bold as Marco Rubio’s position nor as likely to appeal to the anti-immigrant crowd). But while he might have stood out in a fallow 2012 field of Republican candidates, he now has a lot of competition from the party’s deep bench who do not carry around the baggage of the George W. Bush administration.

The stigma that still attaches to Jeb’s brother may strike many conservatives as unfair, and they are right to think so. But anyone who thinks it is not a potent factor in American politics wasn’t paying attention last year. Incredibly, Barack Obama won re-election by blaming the country’s economic woes on George W. Bush rather than on his own stewardship of the country four years after the latter left office. That sentiment is not likely to disappear in the next four years, making it all the more imperative that the next Republican candidate have no connections with the last Republican president.

This means that the idea of Jeb Bush as the putative leader of the Republican Party doesn’t really add up. My guess is that Jeb knows this as well as anyone else and will probably leave the 2016 race to Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul and others who are also not named Bush. In the meantime, Jeb may sell more books on the basis of the speculation he is feeding. If so, good for him–but this far away from the next presidential election, it would appear that many pundits are having trouble telling the difference between publishing and politics.

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The Age of the GOP Governors

Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.) 

This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).  

“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

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Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.) 

This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).  

“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

This victory was important, then, both substantively and politically. And it brought into sharper focus the best news about the GOP these days: Governors. Despite a very disappointing showing at the federal level in November, at the state level things are quite encouraging. Republicans now control 30 governorships–the highest number for either party in a dozen years. (Democrats control 19 governorships and Rhode Island has an independent governor.) 

Moreover, many of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation are governors–people like Mitch Daniels (Indiana), Bob McDonnell (Virginia), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Chris Christie (New Jersey), John Kasich (Ohio), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), and Nikki Haley (South Carolina), as well as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

These men and women are models for governance: conservative, reform-minded, growth-oriented, and interested in what works. They tend to be principled but not ideological. They’re problem solvers, they have to balance their budgets, and they are generally popular in their states. As a general rule they practice politics in a way that doesn’t deepen mistrust or cynicism among the citizens of their states.

This period reminds me a bit of the 1990s, when many of the best reforms (in areas like welfare and education) were coming from governors. That’s certainly the case today. And it’s why many on the right were hoping that in 2012 the best of the current class, Mitch Daniels, had run for president of the United States (he opted for becoming, starting next year, president of Purdue University). For now, Republicans could hardly do better than to turn their lonely eyes to state capitals throughout the country.

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Is Paul Ryan the Leader of the Conservative Movement?

When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

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When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

As much influence as the Tea Party-affiliated members of Congress have been able to exert over the legislative affairs of the country, the Republican Party is still clearly at a crossroads. Mitt Romney’s nomination was the result of many factors, but it was not because he leads a movement within the party. No strand of the conservative movement, therefore, was elevated above the others by Romney’s successful bid for the GOP presidential nomination. That is one reason there was so much interest, especially on the right, in Romney’s choice of vice presidential nominee.

What would a President Romney’s agenda look like? Many suggested that question would be answered as much by his running mate as anything else. But above all, Romney had the ability to elevate a conservative (or moderate Republican) and that person’s followers within the party. There were plenty of strong choices for the veep position because there are so many talented rising stars in the party: Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez, Kelly Ayotte, and others. But the one that stood out the most to Romney was also the one with arguably the broadest coalition within the party and among the conservative movement: Paul Ryan.

When considering potential presidential nominees for 2016 if Obama wins reelection, we can probably take Jim DeMint’s name off the list, as he is unlikely to run. Jeb Bush is a wild card: many will say he missed his window, or that he won’t run against Rubio, but he would also attract immediate support from across the party spectrum. It makes sense for Rand Paul to run, I suppose, if only to build his base and his following the way his father did. But I doubt he’d be much of a threat to the others. Jindal is immensely qualified, but it’s unclear if he can thrive on the national stage.

Ideologically, however, both Ryan and Rubio are in good standing with each of the party’s wings. On budgetary issues, most of the young conservatives are on the same page. But judging from the response to the various speeches at the Republican National Convention, the party remains closer on foreign policy to both John McCain’s hawkishness and Condoleezza Rice’s muscular realism than to Rand Paul’s retrenchment. (I don’t think the term “isolationist” is accurate, especially since isolationism used to mean opposition to free trade.) And on social issues, the party remains strongly pro-life.

Would that last one exclude Christie? He is pro-life, but not especially fond of legislating his preferences on social issues. There is probably one more category of conservative worth mentioning: the intellectual wing of the movement. This wing is often more moderate, and therefore at odds with the grassroots base, but still has a high degree of influence within the party and may be best positioned to advance ideas, if not candidacies.

Many of the rising stars in the party would attract their support, and that certainly includes Paul Ryan. And now there is one more advantage for Ryan: even if Romney loses, Ryan will be the lone member of this presidential ticket still vying for prominence within the Republican Party. It does not quite make him a standard bearer, but I think it’s close enough. He has been touring the country making the case for conservatism, and he would garner support from each faction of the movement. So would others, surely. But Ryan may wake up on Wednesday the vice president-elect of the United States, and that means something.

If Romney wins tomorrow, Ryan is undoubtedly first in line, at least for the time being, to inherit the party. But even if he loses tomorrow he is poised to make that claim anyway. That means the conservative grassroots would be elevated to prominence right along with him, solidifying this tectonic shift.

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The George W. Bush Alibi Doesn’t Cut It

The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.

But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”

He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.

The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.

But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”

He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.

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The Extravagant Hypocrisy of Charlie Crist

Let me pose a hypothetical. A young, charismatic Hispanic advocating for more humane immigration policies and against draconian enforcement defeats an aging, white politician in an election. The older politician then leaves his party to join the party led by the politician who took unprecedented action to squash immigration reform. What would you call the older politician?

You would call him Charlie Crist, right? After all, that is exactly what happened in Florida, and over the weekend Crist bolted the party advocating for more immigration with a growing cadre of Latino political stars for the party of the status quo. Crist endorsed President Obama, perhaps unsurprisingly but not without a dose of irony and a mammoth lack of self-awareness. There is a lot to love in his Sunday op-ed announcing his endorsement of the president, but this is my favorite part:

But an element of [the Republican] party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.

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Let me pose a hypothetical. A young, charismatic Hispanic advocating for more humane immigration policies and against draconian enforcement defeats an aging, white politician in an election. The older politician then leaves his party to join the party led by the politician who took unprecedented action to squash immigration reform. What would you call the older politician?

You would call him Charlie Crist, right? After all, that is exactly what happened in Florida, and over the weekend Crist bolted the party advocating for more immigration with a growing cadre of Latino political stars for the party of the status quo. Crist endorsed President Obama, perhaps unsurprisingly but not without a dose of irony and a mammoth lack of self-awareness. There is a lot to love in his Sunday op-ed announcing his endorsement of the president, but this is my favorite part:

But an element of [the Republican] party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.

The senator who defeated Crist, you’ll remember, was Marco Rubio. Rubio, no doubt, can’t help but laugh at the thought of Crist lecturing him–the son of Cuban immigrants–on what is good for Latino immigrants. But it’s even more risible as Rubio’s defeat of Crist enabled the Republican Party to raise the issue of liberalizing immigration policies. Rubio put together his own version of the Dream Act, which was expected to gain such bipartisan popularity that the Democratic Party moved to destroy any chance of it coming up for a vote. So President Obama released an executive order directing authorities not to enforce immigration law against certain immigrants rather than pass legislation to fix the problem.

Additionally, Crist mentions education, but Crist’s predecessor, Jeb Bush, enjoys a legacy that includes a reformed state education policy with impressive results. In other words, Crist hails from the state at the center of an immigrant-friendly, pro-education reform movement led by the party he is walking away from.

Both Bush and Rubio have earned extraordinary respect from the national party and the conservative movement. If Crist wants to take a stand on behalf of a status quo that is failing students in order to enrich union bosses and preventing bipartisan immigration reform, he is free to do so. But it should be acknowledged that this is exactly what he is doing.

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Yes, Conservatives Criticized Reagan Too

What do you call a forum during which two people holding different opinions argue their respective cases in an attempt to win over the audience? Conservatives rightly call this a “debate.” But according to Dana Milbank, liberals have another term: “show trial.” That’s what Milbank called a debate this week between Norm Ornstein and Steve Hayward hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The topic was whether Ornstein was correct about the modern Republican Party’s supposed historic intransigence.

It’s telling that the free flow of ideas makes liberals so uncomfortable. That is one aspect of the larger point Milbank was making, which is that in his opinion Jeb Bush’s recent comments on the difficulty his father and Ronald Reagan would have in today’s GOP were spot-on. But what did Jeb Bush say that Milbank found so damning? Here it is, from his column:

“Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party . . . as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” Bush said Monday in a meeting at Bloomberg headquarters in New York, according to the online publication Buzzfeed.

“Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time — they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support,” Bush added. Reagan today “would be criticized for doing the things that he did.”

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What do you call a forum during which two people holding different opinions argue their respective cases in an attempt to win over the audience? Conservatives rightly call this a “debate.” But according to Dana Milbank, liberals have another term: “show trial.” That’s what Milbank called a debate this week between Norm Ornstein and Steve Hayward hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The topic was whether Ornstein was correct about the modern Republican Party’s supposed historic intransigence.

It’s telling that the free flow of ideas makes liberals so uncomfortable. That is one aspect of the larger point Milbank was making, which is that in his opinion Jeb Bush’s recent comments on the difficulty his father and Ronald Reagan would have in today’s GOP were spot-on. But what did Jeb Bush say that Milbank found so damning? Here it is, from his column:

“Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party . . . as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” Bush said Monday in a meeting at Bloomberg headquarters in New York, according to the online publication Buzzfeed.

“Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time — they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support,” Bush added. Reagan today “would be criticized for doing the things that he did.”

Chilling, I know. Reagan would be criticized. Talk about Stalinism! It’s fair to say, then, that liberal reaction to Bush’s comments has been disproportionate to their content. It’s hard to imagine conservatives criticizing Reagan–unless, of course, you were alive during the Reagan administration. Here’s just one of many examples, from the L.A. Times, to which Richard Viguerie ran down a list of a few things conservatives were upset with Reagan about: “abortion, pornography, busing and economic issues, but at the core of the criticism is anti-communism. Across the board he seems to be deserting his anti-communist position he has had for the last 30 years.”

The headline on the story was “Reagan Seeks to Calm His Right-Wing Critics.” Both liberals and conservatives have taken some poetic license during the years with Reagan’s legacy. But Reagan was criticized. He responded to the criticism. The right engaged in a debate. There was plenty of disagreement, yet Reagan continues to be lionized by conservatives who, unlike Milbank and the left, aren’t terrified by the clash of ideas.

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Conservatism Must Avoid Conformity

As his interview earlier this week with Charlie Rose demonstrated, Governor Jeb Bush is fluent and in command of the issues, which is not surprising to anyone who knows him. There’s an active intelligence and engagement with public policy matters that makes him allergic to talking points.

But there are several others elements in the interview that I want to focus on, including Bush’s style. I don’t mean that in the shallow sense of the word. Rather, what I have in mind is a particular temperament and disposition in approaching politics and the wider world.

For one thing, there’s an admirable candor and genuineness in Bush, including his love and admiration for his brother and father and his principled and bountiful attitude on immigration. He also possesses a generosity of spirit, including his praise for President Obama on several national security issues. That’s not to say Bush didn’t articulate a powerful and effective case against the president or on behalf of conservatism. He did. Indeed, the fact that the former Florida governor wasn’t robotically critical of the president makes his criticisms more, not less, effective. And Bush is clearly a man without rancor, proving that principled individuals don’t have to be angry ones.

Beyond all that, though, Bush spoke about the importance of a “divergence of thought” and the dangers of orthodoxy when it comes to American political parties. He’s a man who clearly enjoys intellectual give-and-take; he talked about the good that emerges from “flourishing policy discussions.” Here Governor Bush is onto something important, which is that conservatism needs to avoid the mindset that demands conformity to the point of stifling silliness.

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As his interview earlier this week with Charlie Rose demonstrated, Governor Jeb Bush is fluent and in command of the issues, which is not surprising to anyone who knows him. There’s an active intelligence and engagement with public policy matters that makes him allergic to talking points.

But there are several others elements in the interview that I want to focus on, including Bush’s style. I don’t mean that in the shallow sense of the word. Rather, what I have in mind is a particular temperament and disposition in approaching politics and the wider world.

For one thing, there’s an admirable candor and genuineness in Bush, including his love and admiration for his brother and father and his principled and bountiful attitude on immigration. He also possesses a generosity of spirit, including his praise for President Obama on several national security issues. That’s not to say Bush didn’t articulate a powerful and effective case against the president or on behalf of conservatism. He did. Indeed, the fact that the former Florida governor wasn’t robotically critical of the president makes his criticisms more, not less, effective. And Bush is clearly a man without rancor, proving that principled individuals don’t have to be angry ones.

Beyond all that, though, Bush spoke about the importance of a “divergence of thought” and the dangers of orthodoxy when it comes to American political parties. He’s a man who clearly enjoys intellectual give-and-take; he talked about the good that emerges from “flourishing policy discussions.” Here Governor Bush is onto something important, which is that conservatism needs to avoid the mindset that demands conformity to the point of stifling silliness.

For example, in his interview with Rose, Bush reiterated that he would of course accept a hypothetical debt deal that included $10 in real spending cuts for every dollar in tax increases. This brought to mind one of the low points of the GOP primary, in which all eight candidates indicated they’d walk away from such a deal. We all understand why; if any of the candidates had said they would accept the deal, they would have been accused of being a RINO, moderate, weak, unprincipled and unconservative.

I argued at the time that lower taxes are a very good idea, but it is not a talisman. And if we have reached a point where Republicans running for president cannot envision (or at least admit to) any scenario in which they would raise taxes, even if as a result they could substantially roll back the modern welfare state, then it’s time to consider loosening the philosophical straitjacket they are in.

A philosophical movement and political party are better when they are drawn more to vigorous and spirited debates rather than excommunication. That is, I think, what Jeb Bush was saying; and he was right to say it.

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Jeb Bush’s Good Advice on Education

Salena Zito has posted her full interview with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, in which Bush suggests there is no need to look further for a vice presidential nominee than Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has been among the most common suggestions for the GOP nominee’s running mate, but now that Romney appears to have wrapped up the nomination, the calls for Rubio to join the ticket are growing louder. (Romney’s blandness has encouraged some commentators to caution him away from choosing Bob McDonnell or Rob Portman.)

But Bush’s other comments in the interview offer some good advice for Romney as well. Romney has been hoping to run against Obama’s record–massive deficits, unsustainable entitlements, high gas prices, high unemployment, etc. But he has already begun conceding the economy’s improvement and searching for someone other than the president to credit. Paul Ryan gave Romney an opportunity to make this election about advocating for future generations when Ryan released his budget aiming to steer the country away from crushing deficits and entitlement insolvency. If Romney follows Ryan in this direction, Bush gave him some more to work with yesterday:

Bush said he is confident Romney would advocate for education issues, an issue the former governor said he was “passionate” about.

“He knows the proper role of government in education, which is limited,” Bush said. “You do not have to have an interventionist federal policy to make something as important as education a national priority.”

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Salena Zito has posted her full interview with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, in which Bush suggests there is no need to look further for a vice presidential nominee than Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has been among the most common suggestions for the GOP nominee’s running mate, but now that Romney appears to have wrapped up the nomination, the calls for Rubio to join the ticket are growing louder. (Romney’s blandness has encouraged some commentators to caution him away from choosing Bob McDonnell or Rob Portman.)

But Bush’s other comments in the interview offer some good advice for Romney as well. Romney has been hoping to run against Obama’s record–massive deficits, unsustainable entitlements, high gas prices, high unemployment, etc. But he has already begun conceding the economy’s improvement and searching for someone other than the president to credit. Paul Ryan gave Romney an opportunity to make this election about advocating for future generations when Ryan released his budget aiming to steer the country away from crushing deficits and entitlement insolvency. If Romney follows Ryan in this direction, Bush gave him some more to work with yesterday:

Bush said he is confident Romney would advocate for education issues, an issue the former governor said he was “passionate” about.

“He knows the proper role of government in education, which is limited,” Bush said. “You do not have to have an interventionist federal policy to make something as important as education a national priority.”

It’s unclear why the GOP candidates have not been talking more about education. President Obama’s budget eliminates the D.C. scholarship program that offered many minority students a much-needed lifeline out of failing schools, and his outspoken opposition to the program has infuriated black and Hispanic leaders. And Chris Christie’s reforms in New Jersey have shown the benefit of bringing teacher’s union contracts closer to reality and freeing up funding for the students. (As someone who has covered education in New Jersey, I can tell you that students were stuck using outdated textbooks and had after-school tutoring and sports programs cut because the state’s Democrats saw unions, not students, as their constituency.)

Romney can also take a look at a new report released by a committee chaired by Condoleezza Rice (another common suggestion for vice president) and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein. The report makes for grim reading, and the task force concludes that the dire state of American education is a national security threat as well:

The lack of preparedness poses threats on five national security fronts: economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion, says the report. Too many young people are not employable in an increasingly high-skilled and global economy, and too many are not qualified to join the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have an inadequate level of education.

“Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security,” the report states. “Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

The broad implications of this issue make it ready-made for an election campaign focused on increasing opportunities for future generations. Bush, Christie, and Rice may not be running, but the rest of the conservative movement and its ascendant standard bearers should be listening carefully.

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Jeb Endorsement May Ease the Sting of Romney Advisor’s “Etch A Sketch” Gaffe

After months of speculation, former Florida governor Jeb Bush finally jumped on Mitt Romney’s bandwagon. The son and brother of the 41st and 43rd presidents issued a statement saying “now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall.” The endorsement, coming on the day after Romney’s impressive win in Illinois all but made his nomination inevitable, isn’t likely to be of all that much help to the frontrunner in upcoming primaries. But it is a signal that the one family that could be said to embody the Republican establishment if there even is such a thing has formally certified Romney’s nomination.

The endorsement also is welcome since it comes on a day when the Romney campaign is dealing with a gaffe by one of his advisors that has the potential to alienate conservatives just at the moment when they may be coming to terms with the fact that they must make their peace with the inevitable nominee. This morning on CNN, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney could tack back to the center after the primaries because:

Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.

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After months of speculation, former Florida governor Jeb Bush finally jumped on Mitt Romney’s bandwagon. The son and brother of the 41st and 43rd presidents issued a statement saying “now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall.” The endorsement, coming on the day after Romney’s impressive win in Illinois all but made his nomination inevitable, isn’t likely to be of all that much help to the frontrunner in upcoming primaries. But it is a signal that the one family that could be said to embody the Republican establishment if there even is such a thing has formally certified Romney’s nomination.

The endorsement also is welcome since it comes on a day when the Romney campaign is dealing with a gaffe by one of his advisors that has the potential to alienate conservatives just at the moment when they may be coming to terms with the fact that they must make their peace with the inevitable nominee. This morning on CNN, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney could tack back to the center after the primaries because:

Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.

While it is true that any candidate will sound a bit different in a general election than in a primary, that’s exactly the sort of statement that reminds conservatives of Romney’s record of flip-flopping and why they don’t trust him. He is the last candidate whose staffers should be talking about fall resets. Republicans would like to believe that the Romney who spoke last night after his win about the imperative of economic freedom being the driving force of his campaign was the real candidate. Fehrstrom’s “Etch A Sketch” comment is likely to be catnip for Rick Santorum’s campaign and help ensure that, no matter what follows, Romney will get spanked in Louisiana.

That makes it more than just an ordinary gaffe. If Romney wants to convince conservatives he means it, he’ll have to start by suspending Fehrnstrom. In the meantime, he’ll hope that Jeb Bush’s belated endorsement will take some of the sting out of what may be a bad news cycle for him.

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Jeb Bush Non-Endorsement May Be What Romney Needs

Of all the many possible reasons Jeb Bush seems to have backed off his earlier intention to endorse Mitt Romney, Politico’s Ben White received the most plausible I’ve heard. White tweeted yesterday that he heard from people close to Bush and was told: “Jeb won’t endorse in part because he knows Romney needs to show he can take down Newt w/out help.”

This is consistent with one way Republican and Democratic nominations differ. The Democratic approach, especially when nominating a more left-wing candidate, is to allow allies and especially the media to try and drag the candidate across the finish line. Sometimes it works–witness the current occupant of the White House. Sometimes it doesn’t–it was simply too much to ask that the country elect John Kerry president. Bush knows the GOP nominee will get even harsher scrutiny, and he must be able to stand on his own. But follow this line of thought a step further, and it begins to look like withholding his endorsement was the best thing Bush could have done for Romney, right now.

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Of all the many possible reasons Jeb Bush seems to have backed off his earlier intention to endorse Mitt Romney, Politico’s Ben White received the most plausible I’ve heard. White tweeted yesterday that he heard from people close to Bush and was told: “Jeb won’t endorse in part because he knows Romney needs to show he can take down Newt w/out help.”

This is consistent with one way Republican and Democratic nominations differ. The Democratic approach, especially when nominating a more left-wing candidate, is to allow allies and especially the media to try and drag the candidate across the finish line. Sometimes it works–witness the current occupant of the White House. Sometimes it doesn’t–it was simply too much to ask that the country elect John Kerry president. Bush knows the GOP nominee will get even harsher scrutiny, and he must be able to stand on his own. But follow this line of thought a step further, and it begins to look like withholding his endorsement was the best thing Bush could have done for Romney, right now.

Consider: the more “establishment” support Romney gets, the more Gingrich looks like the “outsider”–a remarkable, but understandable, piece of branding. Additionally, Romney’s biggest failing as a candidate seems to be his inability to connect with voters. It’s possible that many just cannot relate to the portrait of a man who doesn’t seem to have faced enough adversity in his life. Leave aside whether or not that is actually the case, since it’s subjective. Narratives stick. And if this is one signal being picked up by a majority of the electorate, then a bit of adversity may help.

In their new biography of Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman tell the story of young Mitt’s first moment of public humiliation. In high school, Romney joined the cross-country team for a 2.5-mile race at halftime of one of the school’s football games. Romney, in his excitement, treated the run as a sprint:

Everyone except Mitt returned before the second half began. Finally, the several hundred spectators noticed Mitt making an agonizingly slow approach to the cinder track. “Mitt kept falling and getting up, falling and getting up, and eventually he just crawled across the line,” [childhood friend Graham] McDonald recalled. It could have been one of the most humiliating moments of his young life. But then the crowd began to rise to its feet, giving Mitt a standing ovation for his effort. “It was definitely looked upon as a show of character. Other people would have quit,” another classmate, Sidney Barthwell, Jr., said.

The authors write that Romney learned a lesson about pacing himself that he keeps in mind to this day. But he probably learned another lesson: people like the scrappy underdog. Gingrich has played that role in this campaign virtually the entire time. Romney has played the frontrunner, the too-perfect contender it is easy to respect, but not root for.

Now Romney’s campaign is in free fall. Gingrich’s aggression is legendary, and it is not missing from this fight. Romney thinks he needs someone like Jeb Bush to come to his rescue. But Bush knows better. Romney will have to embody his own campaign message: he’ll have to earn it.

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