October 31, 2015
Jeb Bush is a good man. As Florida’s Governor, he presided over tax cuts and bureaucratic simplification that has resulted in this state becoming a mecca not only for retirees, but for anyone seeking a job. He has demonstrated compassion towards illegal immigrants and speaks fluent Spanish. He is a solid social conservative, a convert to Catholicism and successfully passed a school voucher program that unfortunately was thrown out by liberal judges. He has raised huge amounts of money and has hired a top notch staff.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that his last name is Bush. Is this an unfair criticism? Yes. But it does not change the political reality. Jeb Bush’s low standing in the polls is because Republican primary voters often speak to non-political people when assessing their candidates. They listen to comments from their beer-drinking brothers-in-law: “You guys are going to nominate another Bush? What have you been smoking lately?”
A battle between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton will quickly devolve into a referendum on the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Smirking hard-core Democrats delight in pointing out that we Republicans claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility and sagacity in foreign policy. But it was Bill Clinton – although with the help of Newt Gingrich’s cattle prod – who handed George W. Bush a country that was at peace and running a budget surplus. Eight years later, we were bogged down in two unwinnable interminable wars, the deficit had ballooned another $3 trillion dollars and we were in the midst of a financial crisis that the country has yet to recover from. Do Jeb’s supporters seriously think that the average voter won’t remember this? Do they think Jeb Bush can repudiate his brother’s legacy and still win? Or do they think he can defend it and still win?
Pundits point out that Jeb Bush is now road kill due to his poor debate performances, especially his recent shellacking at the hands of Marco Rubio. With apologies to Mark Twain, “The death of Bush’s campaign is greatly exaggerated.” He is sitting on over $100 million in cash. As the field winnows, he is in a position to run negative attack ads on his opponents and slowly dismember them. While the Bush family likes to portray themselves as above-the-fray patricians, they go after political opponents in a fashion that would make a Mafia don blush. Like Romney, Jeb could emerge bruised and victorious, but unelectable.
The chattering class portrays the Republican primary battle as between “The Establishment” and “The Tea Party.” This is inaccurate. It is actually between the Realists and the Dreamers. The Dreamers, who are now backing Donald Trump or Ben Carson, believe that an honest outsider can claim the White House. The Realists, who have spent decades looking at election returns, know this is probably a fantasy. Winning presidential candidates must be disciplined, properly vetted and have a proven track record of winning elections. Ben Carson did not allow a training neurosurgeon to remove a brainstem glioma without his supervision, if at all.
The Dreamers will soon come around to the Realists’ viewpoint. But some of the Realists’ must face the music too. In may well be that no one can defeat Hillary Clinton unless the Republican Party changes on some fundamental issues. But that’s the topic of another article. But for now, the Realists backing Jeb Bush need to conclude he is not our strongest candidate and that his continued presence in the race will simply result in a circular firing squad. He should drop out before the damage is irreversible.