You know who wants Jeb Bush to run for president? The pundits.
It's not that they pine for another Bush in the White House; it's that they need a GOP front-runner, preferably a household name.
The Republican race is too amorphous for their taste. Every story has to mention Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and on and on. What journalists love is a two-person showdown, especially if each candidate hails from a different wing of the party, paving the way for lots of civil war themes.
Christie was their guy. A brash, blunt blue-stater with a relatively moderate approach. But the governor’s bus hit the bridge pothole, and even after the self-exoneration and those interviews with Megyn Kelly and Diane Sawyer, he is rolling on punctured tires.
So the media are gravitating back toward Jeb, who is plainly ambivalent about running. And here's how it works: reporters call up a bunch of party stalwarts and money men and ask if they'd like to see Bush get in. Sure, these folks say. Then we report a "surge" of interest in Jeb.
The story's foundation is real; Jeb Bush could easily get the backing of the establishment wing of the party, which doesn't want a hyper-conservative nominee in 2016. You could make a case that New York and Beltway pundits would also be more comfortable with a third President Bush than with a President Rand Paul.
But Jeb is no more likely to run this week than he was last week. What's changed is the media climate.
The Washington Post kickstarted the process with this piece:
"Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.
"Concerned that the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal has damaged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political standing and alarmed by the steady rise of Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), prominent donors, conservative leaders and longtime operatives say they consider Bush the GOP’s brightest hope to win back the White House."
Of course, such stories eventually have to pause and consider the Bush baggage.
The former Florida governor hasn't run for anything since 2002. That was pre-Twitter, and he may not have the agility and determination to withstand today's crazy obstacle course.
This is not his brother's GOP. On issues from education to immigration, he is out of step with the party's Tea Party direction. Bush has openly questioned whether his father—and his dad’s running mate, Ronald Reagan—would fit in today’s Republican Party and an “orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.”
Then there's the last name. George W. Bush was not exactly popular when he left office after Iraq, Katrina and a financial crisis. Jeb is his own man, but the association is a powerful one.
Yes, yes, Hillary would be a perfect opponent, neutralizing the royal-family argument. But Bill Clinton will have left the presidency 16 years earlier; W. will have vacated eight years earlier.
As Slate's John Dickerson points out:
"On domestic issues, the Bush family is synonymous among some conservatives with tax increases and federal spending. Perhaps the greatest sin in the modern conservative movement is George H. W. Bush’s 1990 budget deal where he traded tax increases for budget savings. Jeb Bush, on the other hand, has cited his father’s compromise as the epitome of presidential leadership. George W. Bush is criticized for his lack of spending restraint as well as his support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (which some might count as the second greatest sin)."
And then there's Iraq. It's virtually impossible for Bush to renounce his brother's war, a quagmire that turned out to be extremely unpopular.
Another problem is that conservatives will argue that Bush is cut from the same cloth as John McCain and Mitt Romney (whose backers are pushing Jeb), and therefore destined to lose. As Dickerson notes, Bush "isn’t being called from the counter in coffee shops or Tuesday Tips club meetings. The support is coming from what one GOP veteran referred to as 'the donor class.' This group is also variously referred to as the establishment, Country Club Republicans, and the moderate wing of the party. These Republicans are tired of being defined by the unpopular Tea Party wing of the party."
One quote that jumped out from the Post story involves the specter of Bush fatigue. Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour was sympathetic, saying: “If his name was Jeb Brown instead of Jeb Bush, he’d be the front-runner.”
But actually, if his name was Jeb Brown, he might never have become governor.
On the plus side, Jeb would inherit his brother's (and father's) fundraising network, and that provides instant credibility.
But will he run? Bush has been making speeches around the country, campaigning for other Republicans, and clearly keeping the door ajar.
And the pundits are happy to keep holding it wide open for him.
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