The newest parlor game in Washington media and political circles is called: “What’s Jeb Up To?” The sudden rash of TV appearances, the new book, and most notably, the about-face on immigration reform — all raise the irresistible proposition that John Ellis Bush is running for president.
Jeb has long worn his ambitions on his sleeve. You needn’t have read the Kitty Kelly unauthorized biography of the Bushes to suspect that Jeb is the one who had the real desire to be president — though he was usurped by his less competent, less articulate, more suggestible older brother.
Of course, the neocons turned George W’s presidency into an Iraq piñata. And his two terms were book-ended by the Supreme Court’s election meddling, a disappearing surplus, “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States,” Hurricane Katrina and the biggest financial crash since Hoovervilles. So it would seem all but impossible that a third Bush could have a shot at the White House.
And yet, a Jeb Bush campaign-in-waiting seems to make perfect sense. The Republican Party veered so far to the right in response to Barack Obama’s emergence they could no longer keep their rape pregnancy theorists and birther kooks quiet. Crazy became so much the currency of the party, the confusion coughed up the worst of all worlds: Willard Mitt Romney.
Jeb could simply swoop in and save the GOP from itself. He was a popular governor (except among those who oppose education by test, or thought affirmative action was a good idea). He knows how to handle a hurricane (sorry, George.) And he is a Spanish-speaker with a wife born in Mexico and an actual relationship with black and brown people in politics.
But then, the media and the politicos got distracted by a shiny penny, partly of Jeb’s minting: Marco Rubio. And the obsession with the Cuban-American Ronald Reagan who could somehow save the party with mostly non-Cuban-American Latinos was in full bloom.
Far be it from Jeb to cede the stage to his junior partner, so out comes his book, Immigration Wars, co-authored with Clint Bolick, a Phoenix-based attorney and supporter of Jeb’s pet cause: channeling federal tax dollars to private schools through vouchers, and pushing “school choice” referenda to benefit charter schools.
The book veered away from the Bush brothers’ longstanding embrace of comprehensive immigration reform, reversing Jeb’s support for a path to citizenship for illegal migrants. The shift flummoxed Washington. It put him at odds with the GOP senators, Rubio included, who are crafting a bill designed to get the issue off the table before 2016. Not to mention Jeb’s onetime political fixer, Al Cardenas, who heads the American Conservative Union, which puts on the right-wing pageant known as CPAC — where both Jeb and Rubio will be speaking next week.
On Tuesday, Jeb went on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and softened his position, offering a classic political explanation for his flip-flops: “We wrote the book last year.”
It all seems like a terribly confusing way to kick off a presidential campaign.
However, it’s easy to “misunderestimate” Dubya’s baby brother, and to forget that he is one of the savviest political operators to emerge from the fever swamps of Florida politics.
After all, it was Jeb who discovered Rubio. Jeb, who encouraged Rubio to try for the U.S. Senate, driving Bush’s successor, then-governor Charlie Crist, out of the party. It was Jeb who early on, spoke out against Arizona’s “papers, please” law, prompting Rubio to liken it to a “police state.” And then, when Rubio switched to being in favor of the law, presumably out of political expediency (just as candidate Rubio opposed the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who Jeb’s father first nominated to the federal bench), Jeb remained firm, preserving his viability as the kind of Republican Hispanic voters could do business with.
Now, he appears to be turning on them.
In doing so, he positions himself for a 2016 primary in which it can be assumed that most of the voters staunchly oppose any form of legalization.
And Jeb’s newfound immigration dexterity leaves Rubio, who drew the suspicions of tea party types before, when he was Florida House speaker, on something of a limb with the far right, should the young protégé decide to take on his mentor in a presidential primary — something I suspect he won’t do.