Are you ready for Bush 2016?

I sure am. Nothing says “new, young, vibrant GOP” like nominating George W. Bush’s 60-something-year-old brother, who’ll have held no political office for nearly 10 years by election day 2016.

Try to wrap your mind around the fact that, if you had to give odds right this minute, the likeliest presidential match-up four years from now would be a second Bush/Clinton election. That’s what this country and its perverse tolerance of dynastic politics has come to. If that’s where we’re headed, I at least want some honesty from the candidates and the public about what we’re doing. Step one: Repeal the Title of Nobility Clause in Article I and make Jeb and Hillary a duke and duchess, respectively. That’ll help tidy things up for Chelsea and George P. Bush in preparation for the inevitable Bush/Clinton III contest in 2036. Step two: I want a Kennedy on the ticket as Hillary’s VP and maybe Ben Quayle or one of the Romney boys (take your pick) as Jeb’s number two. Let’s really own what we’re doing here. Simple proposition: From now on, no one is eligible to run for president unless he/she is related by blood or marriage to someone who already has.

When former President Bill Clinton rolled through here while campaigning for President Obama, he speculated about Mr. Bush’s intentions with Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and friend of Mr. Bush. It was no idle topic for Mr. Clinton, given the possibility that his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, could seek the Democratic nomination.

When Senator Marco Rubio of Florida held a strategy session here to discuss his own political future last week, the question of Mr. Bush, a mentor, hung over the room; a decision by Mr. Bush, 59, to seek the Republican nomination would almost certainly halt any plans by Mr. Rubio, 41, to do so or abruptly set off a new intraparty feud.

Mr. Bush is said by friends to be weighing financial and family considerations — between so many years in office and the recession his wealth took a dip, they said, and he has been working hard to restore it — as well as the complicated place within the Republican Party of the Bush brand. Asked this week about whether his father would run, Jeb Bush Jr. told CNN, “I certainly hope so.”…

Still, calls for Jeb Bush to enter the arena in a bigger way represent vindication of a sort. His family’s longstanding advocacy for a more broad-based and “compassionate” Republican Party was largely ignored and eventually repudiated by the populist, small-government conservatives who held sway over the party after Mr. Obama’s election.

Enthusiasm for a Jeb candidacy boils down to two things, the belief that public dissatisfaction with Dubya will have faded by 2016 and the idea that Jeb, almost uniquely, can help win back Latinos to the GOP. On the first point, here’s a memorable data point from this year’s national exit poll:

The financial crisis left a long, lingering stain on Dubya’s economic record, sufficiently so that it may have effectively neutralized Romney’s attacks on Obama over jobs. That might fade a bit in time — or, if the economy finally rebounds in O’s second term, the recovery might make Bush’s record look even uglier by contrast. A Bush lost once before to a Clinton because of the economy; imagine Bill out there making the case that electing Hillary will guarantee 90s-era prosperity while Jeb is out there making the case that electing him won’t result in late 00s-era crisis and panic. Which pitch sounds stronger?

As for Jeb’s pull with Latino voters, it’s true that he did well with them during his runs for governor. But part of his appeal is his support for immigration reform, and congressional Republicans will already have made a deal on that before 2016. If a conservative as usually stalwart as Krauthammer is ready to wave the white flag on amnesty in hopes of capturing a few more Latino votes next election, there must be 25 or so centrist Republicans in the House willing to follow suit. At a bare minimum, there’ll be some sort of DREAM Act passed with GOP cooperation and maybe comprehensive immigration reform too depending upon how hard Obama’s willing to push for it. (He was promising in late October to get comprehensive reform done this year.) If it happens, what’s left of Jeb’s big selling point in 2016? He can run on his biography, i.e. the fact that his wife is Mexican and therefore he understands the Latino experience in America better than most politicians of either party. But of course that’s also true of Rubio. And Rubio, unlike Jeb, might be in a position to actually cast a vote on immigration reform this year.

One more thing about the Latino vote in 2016. Lost in all the breathless reports about how badly Romney lost that demographic to Obama is the fact that Obama didn’t do well with Latino Democrats when he first ran for president in 2008. In fact, in most states, he was roundly crushed by Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee in 2016. Bill Clinton was also tremendously popular with Latino voters, destroying Bob Dole in 1996 by 51 points. You can parse that result in two ways. One: The fact that the Democrats might have a nominee who’s unusually strong among Latinos means the GOP must nominate Jeb or Rubio or someone with some sort of unique outreach to that demographic. Or two: The fact that the Clintons are so strong means that any special biographical appeal brought to bear by Jeb or Rubio will be neutralized, making one of their biggest selling points maybe not so big. No way of knowing how the math on that shakes out without seeing multiple polls, but I agree with other analysts who say that it’s foolish to think Latinos are single-issue voters. They vote like everyone else, based on the economic, social, and foreign policies that they prefer. (I.e. mostly Democratic.) That being so, are we sure a guy named “Bush” would have any more appeal to them than he would to the rest of the electorate that has less-than-fond memories of Dubya’s second term? I’m not convinced.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on March 29, 2023