Unfair as it may be, it’s hard to resist comparing Jeb with one of his party’s most prominent members: his brother, the former president.
Jeb was the Good Brother who made his fortune in business before running for office, as his father advised, and climbed the party ladder in the ultimate swing state. George was the late-blooming cut-up who found religion and renounced alcohol the morning after his 40th birthday, got rich in a sweetheart deal and was anointed by party elders to run for governor of Texas. In 1994, Jeb lost his first campaign for governor. George won.
Jeb won in 1998, but by then George was already being mentioned for the presidency. When George outpaced his brother and announced his campaign in 1999, Barbara Bush said, “Can you believe it?”
It might be a stretch to say George couldn’t have become the 43rd president of the United States if Jeb hadn’t been the 43rd governor of Florida. It’s not a stretch to say that Jeb could have run this time but for George W.’s presidency. According to a CNN poll released last week, George W. Bush is the most unpopular living ex-president.
This unpopularity will fade over time as the hazy gauze that descends on most former presidents shrouds 43’s record. Obama helped that process along at the White House recently when George W., accompanied by former administration officials and 14 members of his extended family, visited for the unveiling of his portrait. “Thank you so much for inviting our rowdy friends to my hanging,” Bush said. Obama lauded Bush for his “extraordinary strength and resolve” after the Sept. 11 attacks and the unforgettable image of his standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn.
That’s how a restoration begins. Perhaps by 2016, it will have proceeded far enough along that Jeb Bush may yet have his presidency.