For Jeb Bush, who I believe really wants to be president, the theory of the case has always been this: At some point, his party, the Republicans, will break from the tea party. The angry fever that overtook the party when Barack Obama’s election produced its intended result: a universal healthcare bill, would break. And the movement, born on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to slag underwater homeowners, and harnessed by the GOP to break the spell of bipartisanship Obama rode into town on, would have so consumed the party base, that cooler heads within the party would prevail, and Jeb would be their champion.
With time, the toxicity of the Bush name will have cooled; his brother, the former president, will enter the inevitable post-presidential honeymoon phase, when Americans forget what it was they disliked about their former commander in chief and start simply enjoying his fetching forays into watercolor.
And, the Jeb Theory of the Case goes, if the party tried to nominate a Ted Cruz or a Sarah Palin, he would ride to the rescue, putting the party back on track to win the White House. (Bonus points for carrying Florida.
For a time, Jeb’s path to the nomination was co-opted by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who offered the same basic bona fides: a purple state governor who worked with Democrats on occasion (though is now appears they may have been under duress) but who wasn’t afraid to talk tough to teacher’s unions and to his own party.
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With Christie’s prospects having been thrown off the George Washington Bridge, Jeb seems the natural heir to the party’s pragmatist throne.
And as the D.C. media discovered the air blowing through the suit of Marco Rubio, a still-popular former governor of a state Republicans need to carry, whose signature issue, education, is as inoffensive — on the surface at least — as puppies, and who also speaks fluent Spanish (though there’s no evidence he polls any better than other Republicans with Hispanic Americans) and knows how to handle a hurricane, didn’t sound like a bad idea at all.
But Jeb Bush’s theory won’t work. Not in the current iteration of the Republican Party, where as unpopular as the tea party is nationally, the far-right argle barglers are firmly in control.
Peer under the hood of the GOP, and you’ll find a base that thinks its own party is not conservative enough; that opposes any expansion of healthcare, even for themselves, and that wants to end federal spending, not just curtail it, even if that includes defense. The ethos of the party Jeb seeks to lead has shifted markedly to the right, in part because of Obama derangement, but also in objection to Jeb’s brother’s tenure: from the economic crash and the deficit to the war in Iraq.
Bush is not just a toxic brand name for the public at large, it’s toxic with the Republican base, too.
Jeb’s path to the nomination would look substantially like Rudy Giuliani’s in 2008: skip Iowa, where evangelicals rule, lose New Hampshire and South Carolina to Rand Paul, and then wait around for Florida. And as Not President Giuliani can tell you, that path is no path at all.
Of course, the irony is that Jeb Bush is the one candidate who in a general election, probably has the name ID to compete from day one on a national scale and to raise the kind of money from institutional Republicans that it would take to win.
But even in a general election, Jeb, who wisely goes the one-name route (like Cher and Sting), would be dogged by a branding problem that can’t be surmounted by touting education reform or convincing a reluctant party to come to sanity on immigration, or by pointing to his managerial ability as a former governor.
That branding problem, in short, is that his last name is Bush. And as the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll demonstrates, two out of three Americans (69 percent) agree with Jeb’s mom: two President Bushes were enough.