Jeb Fever Sweeps GOP; Symptoms Likely to Be Mild, Temporary

In the first of what will surely be a long string of genuflections, abnegations, and abasements, potential Republican presidential candidates journeyed to the sands of Las Vegas last weekend to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition, though everyone there seemed to agree that there was really an audience of one: Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who flushed nearly $100 million of his money down the drain in the 2012 presidential campaign. Among those arriving on bended knee was one politician who has been out of office for seven years, and was never knows as a darling of the Republican base. But as Philip Rucker and Robert Costa reported in The Washington Post, large portions of the GOP establishment look toward 2016 and feel a stirring deep within their hearts, a hope and a dream that goes by the name of … Jeb.

That's right, Jeb Bush, who you may recall is the brother of one George W. Bush, whose time in office did not go particularly well. Rationally speaking, there's no reason why Jeb should have to answer for Dubya's failures, of course. The two brothers were never all that much alike; Jeb always seemed more thoughtful and less impulsive than his older brother, and unlike the former president, he can navigate his way through a sentence in the English language. You can see why the big-money types would be attracted to him (he's the kind of grown-up they feel comfortable with), but the reality is that Jeb would have to wade through an awful lot of questions about the legitimacy of political dynasties and the public's appetite for yet more Bush.

Yet I don't think that's the biggest impediment to a Jeb presidency. A line from Rucker and Costa's article gets at part of it: "I think he is a talented, credible, thinking leader," says a former Romney adviser. "The question is, how much appetite is there in the Republican Party and in the general electorate for that?" There's probably more in the general electorate than in the Republican party, but even so, I have to wonder if the real appetite question is whether Jeb has the appetite for a presidential campaign.

That appetite isn't in and of itself enough to make you a top contender for the nomination, much less the nominee. But it's the bare minimum you need. Running for president is so grueling that if you don't want that prize with a mad desperation, you won't get anywhere. Now, it should be said that Bush hasn't been much in the public eye in recent years, so we don't know where his head is at. But I always got the impression that he thinks he'd be a fine president, but he wasn't going to crawl over hot coals to get there.

I could be wrong, of course. But I wouldn't be surprised if Bush turned out to be the Fred Thompson of 2016. You may recall that in the fall of 2007, many establishment Republicans were clamoring for the actor and former senator to run for president. After all, he had played presidents on TV, and had a deep and gravelly voice (or as Chris Matthews said with admiration at the time, "Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva?"). But when Thompson started to campaign, it turned out he didn't have much fire in his belly. He showed up late, he was lackluster when he got where he was going, and before long people were throwing around words like "lazy." He soon pulled out of the race.