It seems it is never too early to pay attention to potential presidential candidates in the US. J. BROOKS SPECTOR takes a look at Jeb Bush, now that the Republican former governor of Florida (and brother of a certain other Bush and son of another) seems to be edging closer to announcing his candidacy for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
Assemble a group of veteran Republican Party pols and campaign strategists in a comfortable room late some night, together with the right liquid libations, and the conversation almost certainly turns to a certain presidency and what it has meant for their party. George W. Bush’s presidential administration began in controversy with Florida’s contested vote as the tiebreaker, together with those infamous hanging chads. Then it lurched forward on to the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan and those non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass deception – and his administration ultimately stuttered to a close, as the Great Recession of 2008 began to bite hard.
The conversation in that room probably isn’t about the victories and vicissitudes of GW Bush’ time in office, or even the net effect of Vice President Darth Vader, er, Dick Cheney, on the president’s mind. Rather, as long as the right mix of people and amber-coloured beverages comes together, it is probably inevitable someone will mumble that it is possible that all the problems stemmed from the 2000 nominating convention, when the wrong son of George HW Bush became the Republican’s standard-bearer in that year’s election.
And how, a certain other Bush, in this case, the smarter one, Jeb Bush, the Spanish-speaking former governor of Florida, is the man who should have been king instead. And now, despite his previous reluctance to come right out and say so, election-savvy politicos think they are detecting tell-tale signs that this time around, this particular Bush is beginning to position himself for a run for the nomination for 2016.
The thing of it is, Republican strategists are already starting to worry how they can complete that geometrically impossible task, squaring the circle. This means keeping their nominating process open and inclusive, even as they winnow down the horde of would-be candidates as quickly as possible, in order to avoid the circular firing squad approach they tried in both 2008 and ’12, with less than stellar results.
As it stands now, the putative Republican candidate field already appears to include Kentucky and Texas Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. While each of these already has champions, they each, separately, have detractors within their party (on the grounds, variously, of personality and temperament, positions, or experience) and on the part of those big money guys who help underwrite campaigns. In fact, until late last year, the smart money already seemed to be sliding towards New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as the man in the charmed circle.
Christie had had his tummy tuck to get into a slightly more svelte combat form; and he had positioned himself as a tough, hard guy who could win convincingly as a Republican in a blue state. It all appeared to be working, that is, until he became entangled in a bizarre scandal that could have come right out of The Sopranos.
Christie’s foul-up appears to have included blocking bridge traffic into New York City from Fort Lee, New Jersey in a days’ long, bodacious traffic jam, as well as withholding post-Hurricane Sandy federal rebuilding funds from a hard-hit location. Both stunts apparently were designed to punish Democratic mayors of small cities in New Jersey for failing to endorse his re-election bid. Now there are multiple criminal investigations, resignations under duress, and the inevitable rumours of cover-ups. The net result is that all of this may well derail any hopes Christie has of playing in the national political centre court.
All of this seems to have given a gentle prod to Jeb Bush for him to step up his public role of mulling over the possibilities. (There is, after all, less than a year left before a candidate has to begin assembling a team, fundraise, think out positions and all the rest – and the actual campaign would effectively begin very shortly thereafter.)
Way back when, they used to call Mario Cuomo, the velvet-voiced Democratic Governor of New York in the 1980s, “Hamlet on the Hudson”, for his apparent inability to make up his mind definitively over whether he would seek the Democratic nomination for president. He didn’t, and the Democrats ended up with former Vice President Walter Mondale, massacred by Ronald Reagan in 1984, and then Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis, (massacred in ’88 by GW and Jeb’s Dad).
Anyway, Jeb Bush – or his acolytes – have taken to begin speaking publicly about how he might well be coming back into active politics – after leaving it nearly a decade earlier. Of course a lot has changed since Bush (III?) last ran for office. Not least, the financing rules of the game have changed dramatically with the advent of the so-called super-PACs and the loosening of contribution restrictions by recent Supreme Court decisions. Then, too, the explosion of social media’s part in political campaigns has happened since Bush was last eating bagels, chimichangas, and jerked pork sandwiches – and kissing babies and shaking hands around the state of Florida.
Still, earlier this week, in his most direct reference to a possible presidential run, Jeb Bush told an audience that he’s “thinking about running for president,” while he was at a Catholic school benefit in New York. In his previous comments, Bush had been saying he would make a decision on whether to run for president before the end of this year.
But his most recent words seemed to have stepped it up one notch. When he was asked what his immediate plans were, out popped the words, “I’m thinking about running for president.” After he said that, Bush received a standing ovation and then he reportedly said, “Can someone call my mother so she can hear this?” This was a reference to previous comments by his mother, Barbara Bush, who had said, “We’ve had enough Bushes” as president. Nevertheless, she, too, has apparently backpedalled from her earlier judgment, apparently even touting a possible Jeb Bush candidacy in a Fox News televised interview.
Asked for comment about these goings-on, veteran Democratic Party strategist and campaign operative David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama, told MSNBC, “I have some real doubts as to whether he’s going to run. Running in the Republican Party today is a hard thing to do, and I don’t think Jeb Bush wants to run for president and have to subjugate his principles like the last two nominees did.”
Even now, even before being an actual candidate for anything, Jeb Bush has already staked out at least one position on a hot button issue that seems certain to antagonise deeply some parts of the Republican Party.
In an interview Bush had previously given to “Fox News Sunday”, Bush made comments about immigration in which he said those who enter the United States illegally, do so to help their families. “It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.” Not the words the Republican base usually loves to hear.
Recent attitude survey data from Fox News asking self-identifying Republicans about their preferred 2016 candidate, showed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was still leading with 15% (despite his current travails), followed by Bush and Rand Paul with 14% each.
Standing firmly in opposition to any thought of a Bush III administration, Christopher Caldwell, editor of the influential neo-con publication, The Weekly Standard, has written in a column for the Financial Times, however, that, “ Donors who believe that nostalgia for the Bush era is widespread are nuts. The strangest advertisements in recent US political history may have been a set of billboards that appeared in early 2010.
They showed former president George W Bush goofily waving next to the question: ‘Miss me yet?’ Certainly, those were rough months for Mr Bush’s successor Barack Obama, who was losing the argument (even as he was winning the vote) over his ambitious healthcare reform.
But Americans were not about to summon back Mr Bush, whom they associated with two failed wars and the near destruction of the world financial system. Indeed, it was unclear whether the signs had been paid for by an earnest Bush supporter or a Bush hater with a dark sense of humour.”
Given Bush’s long absence from full-time politics, and his turn to a business career after leaving the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, he has been engaged in a number of activities that have raised a few eyebrows in some corners. He joined the board of a small start-up company involved in innovative housing solutions back in 2007 (just after he left the governorship and while his brother was in the White House). Unfortunately, the company was involved in a range of corporate frauds and then went bankrupt, with most investors losing their shirts.
Moreover, Bush was party to efforts to prop up the doomed Lehman Brothers investment firm, shortly before it collapsed under the weight of its holdings of those toxic mortgage-backed securities. Bush had tried to recruit Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú to help bail out the company, unsuccessfully. And he has been a paid director of Tenet Health Care, a major hospital operating company that has been an aggressive supporter of the Affordable Care Act because of management’s view Obamacare would actually be excellent for its core business. Ouch. If you are a Republican.
A recent report in the Washington Post on Bush’s business efforts also notes, “Since 2007, he has left few corners of the economy untouched, working on Wall Street, starting a consulting firm, investing in real estate, advising an emergency preparedness company, sitting on the board of a hospital linens provider, and giving speeches to grocery industry groups, local chambers of commerce and health care conferences. He has been well paid for his time, earning at least $3.2 million in board fees and stock grants from publicly traded companies alone, records show.
“His corporate speechmaking appears to have generated millions more: He commands about $50,000 for his speeches, delivering more than 100 since 2007, though some are unpaid. And he has earned millions from his work as an adviser to Lehman Brothers and Barclays, the company that took much of the bank over, according to executives familiar with his arrangements.”
Aside from his involvement with the financial crisis and his effective involvement with a company supportive of the Obama administration’s most symbolic effort that is an anathema to the Republican base, aspects of his other corporate efforts could be problematic for his party, if the popular feeling is that their candidate should be able to stand apart from the network of corporate lobbying and influence building. Alternatively, all of these connections would be a readymade address list for future fundraising efforts, should he take the final step.
Like every other potential candidate, Jeb Bush still has time to weigh his options – but the window of opportunity is closing; his would-be opponents are already gathering their backers and supporters. And, of course, all Republicans are eyeing the growing edifice that is the Hillary Clinton campaign in the making. DM
Photo: U.S. President George W. Bush (C) poses for pictures with his father the former President George H.W. Bush (L), and his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush following a christening ceremony the U.S. Navy’s new aircraft carrier the George H.W. Bush, at the Northrop Grumman shipyard in Newport News, Virginia, Saturday 07 October 2006. EPA/MATTHEW CAVANAUGH
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