In the end, Jeb will make his case on his two terms in Florida. As Texas had been fertile ground for the GOP’s midcentury alignment, so Florida, diverse and “purple,” has emerged as a crucial piece in the party’s new electoral map and the staging ground of a new conservative politics, via, for one, Jeb’s protégé Marco Rubio, who may contest Jeb and seems to enjoy the support of “reformicons” such as David Brooks, Ross Douthat and Ramesh Ponnuru. But before he challenges Jeb, Rubio will do well to study Jeb’s role in the Florida recount in 2000. What most remember is his chagrin at not being able to deliver the state outright to his brother. But Jeb used the governorship effectively during the postelection battle. “Nothing was more valuable to [George W.] Bush in the first key days of the deadlock than his brother’s [Jeb’s] power and network of resources—especially his staff of politically expert lawyers,” according to Deadlock, the account written by the Washington Post’s political reporters. “Jeb Bush had, in his general counsel’s office, some of the sharpest, freshest lawyer-politicians in Florida. They knew the law, the players, the terrain and where the bodies were buried in a way that the Democrats streaming in from Nashville [where Gore’s campaign was located] could never match.”
It was an incalculable advantage, even if Jeb formally recused himself; the essential lawyers all took temporary leaves of absence, to avoid the appearance of conflict. “Family loyalties pulled him one way—but that way threatened severe damage to his own political future,” the Post reporters say. “If his brother won, half the voters in his state would be angry. A good number of them would suspect that Jeb personally arranged it.” But for the Bushes, loyalty comes first. And like all dynastic families, they equate what is best for themselves with what is best for the country. This is the meaning of “public service.” For genial, well-adjusted Bushes, no less than for the “harsh, amoral” Nixon, the world divides neatly into two camps. The rest of us, too, may soon have a decision to make.
Sam Tanenhaus is writing a biography of William F. Buckley Jr.
Image: George W. Bush presidential library