Doomed Jeb Bush Presidential Campaign Moves Closer to Reality

The Wall Street Journal tells us today that we shouldn't forget about Jeb:

WASHINGTON—Republican strategists and fundraisers say Jeb Bush's closest advisers have been quietly spreading the word that they should avoid committing to other possible presidential candidates until he decides on his own course after the November election.

The message from Mr. Bush's inner circle during the past few months is in part an effort to bat down speculation that the former Florida governor has ruled out a 2016 run, say GOP donors and strategists who have spoken with the Bush camp. The message, as one put it, is: "Before you do anything, let us know."

Jim Nicholson, a Bush supporter who served in President George W. Bush's cabinet, said: "I think the chances are better than 50-50 that he runs, and that is based on some conversations I've had with members of the Bush family."

Mr. Bush's aides aren't actively making calls but responding to supporters who are fielding inquiries from other potential candidates, according to those involved in the conversations.

Mr. Bush is a top choice of the establishment wing of the Republican Party. His entry would help define the policy fights of the primary process, as his support for overhauling immigration law and for the Common Core national educational standards has drawn strong opposition from many conservatives.

I get that Bushes look upon national office as a birthright, and any prominent Republican probably looks at the field of potential 2016 contenders and says, "I could beat those guys." And Jeb must have been sorely disappointed when an unfortunate set of circumstances—the fact that he lost in his first run for Florida governor in 1994—left his ne'er-do-well brother to carry the family sigil to Washington, when everyone had said all along that Jeb was the one who was supposed to be president. The problem is that the party has left him behind.

It isn't just a couple of issues like immigration and Common Core that would make things so hard for him. It's that the dynamics within the GOP have shifted. To characterize it as a battle between the base and the establishment oversimplifies things. Mitt Romney showed that it might be possible for a candidate to be establishment in his bones, but don the vestments of a Tea Partier, perform the rituals of genuflection, and slide into the nomination (and it wouldn't hurt if your competition was a bunch of chuckleheads). As I've argued before, primary voters are ideological satisfiers—they're not looking for the most ideological candidate, just one who passes a threshold level of acceptability and can win.

Jeb's problem is that the party's threshold keeps moving right, and the very fact of his Bushness, plus the fact that he is indeed (at least in people's perception) the "establishment candidate," means that he'd probably have to campaign in a tricorner hat and get a picture of Sarah Palin tattooed on his neck to convince Tea Partiers they can trust him. I could be wrong, but I just don't think he has it in him.

The person who wins the 2016 GOP nomination is going to be the one who can satisfy both the base and the elite, who can deliver spittle-flecked denunciations of Barack Obama and also convince the party leaders that he can appeal to a general electorate. I don't know who that'll be, but it won't be someone too firmly in the former camp (like Ted Cruz),  nor will it be someone from the latter camp (like Jeb). Somebody will prove themselves able to build a bridge between the two sides, but Jeb really doesn't look like the candidate who can do that. If he really is the smart one, he'll figure that out before he goes to all the trouble of mounting a campaign.

Advertisement