In a meeting with Republicans in Boston last week, he prematurely lashed out at several possible competitors, including Jindal, whom he no doubt had in mind when he reportedly said, “I’m not going to be one of these people who’s going to come and call our party ‘stupid.’ ” No, Christie’s much, much too tactful for that.
Bush has registered concern with the way the party can come across as “anti-science.” He has also referred to it as “the party of no,” correctly noting that Republicans right now are defined negatively, by all they’re against.
So what is he for? He talks extensively about educational opportunity, grounded in school choice. He has called for a “patriotic energy security strategy” that diminishes our reliance on foreign oil by more thoroughly tapping domestic sources of oil and natural gas. He’ll need a broader agenda than that, a longer list of affirmatives in order to turn Republicans into the Party of Yes. But he’s seemingly aware of the challenge and hasn’t sprinted away from the autopsy that the party performed on itself after Mitt Romney’s defeat in the 2012 presidential election.
Bush may lack Christie’s verve, but he’s shown some of Christie’s nerve. Last year he said that both his father and Ronald Reagan would have a difficult time fitting into the intensely partisan Republican Party of today and “an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.”
“We’ve lost our way,” he said earlier this year.
The party needs to do better with Hispanic voters, and Bush isn’t just bilingual but also, in a sense, bicultural, with a Mexican-born wife. The state he governed and still lives in, Florida, has a large Hispanic population.
Swing voters looking for a Republican who supports abortion rights or gay marriage aren’t going to find one in him. But then they’re not going to find one in Christie or Ryan, either.
I’m told by people in the know that while Bush is definitely mulling a candidacy, there’s only a 20 to 30 percent chance that he’ll press the button. Many factors play into that decision: his family’s privacy; the reality that he and Rubio, his onetime political mentee, can’t both run; the nascent political career of his son George P. Bush, who might be better served by a longer Bush lull.
And then there’s the question that every presidential contender about to submit to a brutal and brutalizing process must ask: Is a burning desire for the White House really present? The fabled fire in the belly? It certainly seems to rage inside Paul, Cruz, Christie. They’re infernos of untempered ambition.
Bush has a cooler temperature. But for the party’s prospects in 2016 and its image beyond then, that could be good. Just as Republicans can’t be the Party of Stupid or the Party of No, they can’t be the Party of Perpetual Ire, and Bush isn’t great at irate.
He’s better positioned for 2016 than he was for 2012, when the bitter disappointments of his older brother’s presidency were more keenly remembered and frequently invoked. Besides, if Hillary Clinton indeed rolls to the Democratic nomination, Republicans needn’t be so concerned about a nominee of their own with a dynastic aura. Clinton versus Bush would be political royalty versus political royalty.
Just imagine Barbara Bush’s muttered asides. That alone is almost reason to wish for the matchup, or cause for her second-born son to take a pass.