Washington Merry-Go-Round

The Other Bush

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 18 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The Other Bush

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Until President Obama shook things up with his announcement on normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, the big news of the week was Jeb Bush’s declaration on Twitter that he is “actively exploring” a presidential run, the first serious effort by a 2016 contender to get out in front of the pack.

Bush’s announcement had the desired effect, freezing the race, sidelining major donors from making commitments, and launching a debate about whether Bush, lauded by the Establishment as a moderate, and derided by the Right as not conservative enough, can maneuver his way through a primary process where the Right rules.

If he decides to enter the race, Bush would do so knowing he cannot win any of the early contests, except maybe New Hampshire, which doesn’t carry the clout it once did in determining a nominee. He would have a plurality strategy, and it would work only to the extent he faces a fractured opposition, and there is no credible candidate on the Far Right.

Secondly, Bush would have to be mindful that in his manner, demeanor, attitude and policy pronouncements, he reminds voters more of his father than his brother. Though George W. Bush has repaired his reputation to some extent through the passage of time, he remains one of the lowest ranking and divisive presidents, largely because of the invasion of Iraq, which was premised on faulty intelligence.

The senior President Bush was a one-term president, but he retains the respect of the political elites in both parties. The public remembers him as a patrician leader who took the prudent approach in the Middle East, stopping short of trying to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein when he had the opportunity, knowing the consequences of plunging into the ethnic divisions in that part of the world.

All of this will be re-litigated again if another Bush wants to occupy the White House. There is no doubt among those who know Jeb that he is his own man, smarter than his older brother and with policy chops that neither his brother nor his father can claim. Jeb has been a leader on education reform, and is one of the architects of the common core, a curriculum designed for the 21st century and pushed by Republican governors and President Obama.

Conservatives are opposed to the common core, viewing it as a federal and liberal takeover of the schools. Bush has said that he will not abandon the positions he has taken on common core, or on immigration reform. He said in a recent interview that a Republican who wants to be president has to risk losing the primaries in order to win the general election.

Of course, if he loses the primary, he doesn’t get the nomination. What he meant is his willingness to stand up for what he believes and settle for the same plurality vote that Mitt Romney got in 2012. Romney sold his soul to get that vote. Can Bush stay true to himself and win enough voters to get the nomination?

Republicans haven’t won the presidency without a Bush on the ticket since 1980, when George H.W. Bush was Ronald Reagan’s running mate. Bush then won election on his own in 1988, only to lose to Bill Clinton in 1992. The sting of that defeat eased when George W. won the White House in 2000, and brought his father and his predecessor to the White House to do humanitarian work together.

They hit it off so well that Clinton became like a member of the family. Asked what it will be like if his brother Jeb runs against Hillary in 2016, President Bush said it would be like Jeb running against his sister-in-law. Could he do it? Yep, Bush replied, and he will beat her.

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