Get Ready GOP (and America): Here Comes Jeb Bush

December 18, 2014 Topic: Domestic PoliticsElections Region: United States

Get Ready GOP (and America): Here Comes Jeb Bush

Can the Bushes pull off a hat trick?

One President Bush served a single term and was defeated in his bid for reelection. The next President Bush was reelected, but left office with abysmally low approval ratings.

In both cases, they were replaced with Democratic presidents who got to govern for two years with large Democratic congressional majorities.

Will the third time be the charm for Bushes and the GOP? Jeb Bush has taken the first steps toward a presidential campaign, setting up a possible dynastic battle with Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Note the word "possible." Unlike in his father and brother's case, this Bush presidential nomination is no sure thing. George H.W. Bush had a large early lead in 1988, running as the incumbent vice president. George W. Bush even more thoroughly dominated the 2000 Republican field when he first declared.

Jeb Bush is leading, but by the slimmest of margins. A McClatchy/Marist poll found Bush ahead by four percentage points, winning just 16 percent of the vote. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll has Bush up by 3 points, taking only 15 percent of the national GOP vote.

As late as March 2000, George W. Bush was hovering around 60 percent of the vote in national polls of Republicans. His brother is bunched in not only with Chris Christie and Paul Ryan, but also Rand Paul and Ben Carson.

Christie is another potential roadblock to a Bush restoration, no Bridgegate pun intended. Normally, the conservative vote is split between at least two higher-tier candidates and a smattering of others with smaller followings. In 2016, the establishment vote may be split between Bush and Christie—and maybe, though more of a long shot, Mitt Romney.

It's also noteworthy that Marco Rubio, a former Bush protégé, issued a defiant statement saying Jeb's entry wouldn't necessarily keep him out of the presidential race. Rubio said that while he respected "Governor Bush," his decision on whether to seek the White House wouldn't be determined by who else runs.

The conventional wisdom has long been that Rubio would have a hard time running if Bush did also. They share a donor and geographical base in Florida. But what if both of them running actually ends up hurting Bush's right flank instead of keeping Rubio from being viable?

Both Rubio and Bush came out with strong statements denouncing the Obama administration's overtures to Cuba. Rubio's generally won better reviews from conservatives.

And while Bush was known as a conservative reformer as governor of Florida, it's Rubio who has more recently floated Social Security– and tax-reform proposals that have been praised by conservative wonks.

George H.W. Bush promised a "kinder, gentler nation," a subtle hint that he would be less conservative than Ronald Reagan. George W. Bush talked up "compassionate conservatism" and much more directly challenged a government-cutting Republican Congress. "I don't think they ought to be balancing their budget on the backs of the poor," he said in 1999.

Jeb Bush seems to have some of this family tendency in him, talking up amnesty for illegal immigrants and defending Common Core, all while seeming generally uneasy with unvarnished conservatism. While many Republicans will just be eager to win after eight years of Barack Obama, the conservative mood has hardened.

Large swathes of the Republican-primary electorate will be looking for a fighter (think Ted Cruz?) as much as a winner. Bush's father had the advantage of being Reagan's vice president. Bush's brother could bond with the Christian right as a fellow evangelical.

Jeb has none of these indirect ways to shore up conservative support, while his conservative-primary opponents have more electoral experience than the Pat Robertsons and Steve Forbeses who have run against Bushes in the past. They should also be competitive in fundraising.

That might be the biggest difference as Jeb tries to carry on the family tradition. Since 1988, when Bushes have run for president, they have had much greater stature than the rest of the Republican field. That Bush family name still has benefits—there's a reason Jeb is running ahead of current Republican governors like Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal and John Kasich. But it has its limits.

This time around, Bush is just another guy in a crowded Republican-primary field.

Republicans may well decide that running a fresh face against Hillary is a better bet than returning to the old Bush brand.

W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? He tweets at @jimantle.

Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore/CC by-sa 2.0