Jeb Bush will have a big problem to overcome in a campaign, former President George W. Bush told a health-industry conference yesterday, and he should know. The problem will be “me,” Jeb’s older brother told the audience of 7,000, and even their mother realizes the nature of the burden:
“It’s an easy line to say, ‘Haven’t we had enough Bushes?’ After all, even my mother said, ‘Yes,’” the former president told an audience of 7,000 health IT experts here on Wednesday.
“That’s why you won’t see me out there, and he doesn’t need to defend me, and he’s totally different from me. The role of family is not to be a political adviser or a policy adviser — there are plenty of those around — the role is to say, ‘Hey man, I love you.’
Bush is right about the role of family, and offered his usual self-effacing anecdotes to demonstrate it. His daughters didn’t embrace the proposal to campaign for the White House with much enthusiasm, attempting to discourage him at first, but rallying around him when it counted. Bush plans to do the same for Jeb, not on the campaign trail but as an emotional support for his younger brother.
However, GWB is being naive if he really thinks that Jeb won’t need to defend him. Of course he will, for the simple reason that while W’s favorability numbers have returned to a rational level, the assessment of his presidency in the popular culture hasn’t — at least not yet. A February 2014 CNN poll showed that more people still blame W than Obama for the state of the current economy, and the specter of the collapse has still not lifted — nor W’s massive TARP intervention, which helped spark the Tea Party.
Returning to the Bushes to extend the dynasty, and there really is no getting around that perception, naturally raises the question as to whether Jeb will return to W’s policies, and whether they were worthwhile in the first place. Either Jeb will have to differentiate himself from his brother where there probably isn’t too much daylight anyway, or he’ll have to defend those areas where he plans to follow similar policies and approaches. That is uniquely Jeb’s burden; other Republicans only have to demonstrate that today’s GOP has the skill and ideas to address the nation’s problems now. That is one big reason why Jeb carries much more risk in a general election for the GOP.
CBS’ John Dickerson notes that Hillary Clinton has the same problem, which means that the other Republicans can practice their attacks on her by applying them to Jeb explicitly. More likely, though, they will choose to address it subtly by exclusively attacking Hillary on the basis of dynasty and being past her sell date, and let GOP primary voters connect the dots themselves.