Jeb Bush: Let's face it, Republicans spent too much when my brother was president

Back when he first announced, I figured upwards of 65 percent of the Jeb Bush presidential campaign would consist of him cautiously criticizing the obvious weak points of Bush 43 policy, one of which assuredly is spending. If you’re linked by blood to a president who left office under dismal circumstances, job one is explaining how you’ll be different. Then Megyn Kelly asked him about Iraq, Dubya’s biggest liability, and we watched Jeb spend a full week grasping for ways not to squarely disagree with his brother.

Which is to say, this shouldn’t be newsworthy but I guess now it is.

“I think that, in Washington during my brother’s time, Republicans spent too much money,” Mr. Bush said Thursday when asked to describe where there was a “big space” between himself and his brother George W. Bush. “I think he could have used the veto power. He didn’t have line-item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, D.C.”…

He did qualify that his criticism of the government spending during his brother’s tenure as president “seems kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, the budget and deficits and spending went up astronomically.” (That was partly the result of two stimulus packages to confront the economic downturn, one of which President Bush signed into law.)

To those in attendance at the early-morning opening of the Draft, a sports bar in downtown Concord where the campaign event was held, Jeb Bush’s spending message made sense.

Easy lay-up for Jeb, but left unsaid here is that he’s being backed by the same center-right donor class that happily lined up behind Dubya’s “compassionate conservative” agenda in 2000. In fact, Dubya was less beholden to the center than Jeb is. Unlike Jeb, he had support among grassroots conservatives. If Bush 45 is going to happen, it’ll happen only because the GOP establishment was willing and able to club the righty base’s favorite candidates into submission with bags of cash. Are those same donors and their lobbyist friends going to turn around in 2017 and applaud while the third President Bush guts federal spending? How did they react to Ted Cruz when he helped shut down 18 percent of the government or whatever for two weeks in 2013? The donor class approaches politics transactionally. Hurt their bottom line and see what happens.

Via Mediaite, here’s Scarboroough marveling that he has yet to hear an enthusiastic word about Bush from any of the Republicans he talks to. Judging by this Bloomberg focus group, Republicans in Iowa haven’t yet caught Jeb fee-vah either. All of which is fine, but how much excitement was there on the trail for McCain in 2008 or Romney in 2012? Never count the establishment favorite out. On the other hand, neither Maverick nor Mitt faced a field as talented as this one, which means, ironically given his astounding fundraising haul, that Jeb’s fate may be largely out of his hands. The point of building up a giant war chest is to be able to smother your opponents with advertising, but Bush may be so weak and competitors like Rubio and Walker so strong that his chances may depend on them screwing up somehow. Rather than winning like Dubya in 2000, he may need to win like Romney in 2012, patiently plodding ahead while the party flirts with one contender after another until we collectively decide that they’re each too flawed and we need to go with the safe choice. Exit question: What would have to happen to Walker’s and Rubio’s campaigns for a guy named “Bush” to emerge as the safe choice?