Influential Republicans are working overtime to draft former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as a presidential candidate for 2016, a feat that, if he won the nomination and the election, would put a third member of the same family in the White House in about 20 years.
Only, the party’s conservative base might have something to say about that.
The same gaggle of GOP establishment types were first obsessed with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy, whose Republican bona fides were pretty much limited to fiscal conservatism but whose blue-state tendencies were viewed by party bosses as important to broaden the GOP’s appeal.
However, two things: The so-called “Bridgegate” scandal has hurt his brand in the eyes of the party (donor) elite, the GOP establishment believes; and more practically, at least in my view, Christie would have had problems as well with the party’s base.
Enter pivot to Bush, the second-most-favorite establishment candidate.
According to the Washington Post, insiders to the former Florida governor say he’s not actively seeking the nomination, but that belies his activities. Bush has been traveling the country making policy speeches and campaigning for fellow (establishment-preferred) Republicans ahead of the fall midterm elections – all while cultivating ties with wealthy benefactors.
For all the world, it sure seems like Jeb Bush is running. Time will tell.
Bush’s problem, if he does decide to run, will be that he will surround himself with the same GOP bundlers, advisors, pollsters, and party bosses who surrounded the last two losing Republican presidential contenders: Establishment favs Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.
Granted, Barack Obama – whose own popularity is waning badly – can’t run again, but the strength of the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, for better or worse, is formidable.
So why back a candidate whose very name will conjure images of Iraq, Afghanistan and economic collapse, and then surround him with the same team of electoral losers who couldn’t engineer presidential wins or wrest back control of a Democrat-held Senate, even from a man and party who gave the country the most unpopular law (Obamacare) in a generation?
Only the GOP establishment knows the answer to that question, but on the surface, it appears to be this: The establishment would rather lose than allow the conservative wing of the party to win, as this passage from the Post story indicates:
“Bush takes pains not to be seen contacting key Republicans from early-primary states, but in October, he asked a staff member for the cellphone number of Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.). He called Ayotte to commend her for standing up to their party’s conservative bloc during the federal government shutdown, people familiar with the conversation said.”
The party’s “conservative bloc” is code for “The Tea Party,” a faction that has wide appeal with the party’s base but which is a threat to the power of the party bosses because at the very core of the Tea Party movement is a desire to unseat the establishment, who are seen as mirror images of big-government Democrats. As G. W. Bush’s tenure proved, Republicans can be big government creators and spenders, too, and by the way, isn’t it wonderful to be the party in charge?
The November elections will reveal a lot about the mindset of the American electorate. All indications are that Republicans will do pretty well, and could even win back the Senate, according to some analyses. Depending on the makeup of the new GOP congressional majority, if the party keeps control of the House and does win the Senate, it might not matter much who the eventual Republican presidential nominee will be.