If Jeb reaches for the nomination, there will be a titanic battle between the party establishment and the Tea Party. Steve Schmidt, McCain’s strategist in 2008, insists that in the end Republicans usually settle on the most electable candidate. To get by, this Bush may be forced to trim his positions, although the cautionary tale of Romney suggests that he would have to tack artfully and carefully for the sake of the general election. Certainly he will have the resources to outlast, discredit, and disqualify his rivals.
Finally and inadvertently, Hillary Clinton may help Jeb navigate this rocky road. If, and in my view when, she runs she will be “the inevitable Democratic nominee”—and voters will know it. Then the latest New Hampshire right-wing confab may be more a case of sound and fury than a predictor of the ultimate outcome because in states like New Hampshire, where independents can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary, they will be drawn to the undecided race, free to take a GOP ballot—and cast it for a Jeb Bush. And then it will be up to him and his allies in the party establishment to do the rest. After protracted and bitter months, we will know whether Republicans want a real chance again in presidential contests.
What we don’t know yet is whether Jeb has the stomach for this fight. Not long ago, I observed on television that he is likely to be most electable Republican. I received emails from angry progressives who inexplicably assumed that I was for him. In fact, I dislike what he did as governor in Florida—and for painful and obvious reasons, detest what he did during the 2000 election. But analytically, I’m convinced that he’s the GOP’s flawed best hope. Their perennial eminences know it, too. I’m also convinced that Clinton will prevail, but he won’t make it easy.