Why Jeb Bush Could Run in 2008
OpinionJournal editor Brendan Miniter thinks we should be careful about writing off the possibility of a Jeb Bush candidacy in 2008.
He denies he’s even interested, and a long list of political analysts have already written him off with the belief that the appearance of political nepotism would be too unseemly for voters to put the brother of the current president in the Oval Office. But in politics timing is everything, and as the clock advances towards 2008, things are starting to fall into place to give Jeb Bush the momentum he needs to win the White House. And this isn’t contingent on Hillary Clinton emerging as the Democrats’ nominee–though if she does, the path will be all the smoother for another Bush.
Ideas matter more in politics than having an “electable” candidate. Right now the ideas of the Bush family are ascendant. Bush 43 didn’t win the White House on the coattails of his father. Name recognition didn’t hurt, nor had all the contacts he’d made in politics. But the fact that Bush 41 lost to Bill Clinton in 1992 meant that George W. Bush had a particularly steep hill to climb within his own party. Republicans who stayed home to see the father lose would not have put the son over the top in 2000 unless he’d won them over first.
Before stepping out onto the national stage, this Bush generation’s ideas of incrementally smaller government proved popular with voters in two large states. George W. Bush defeated Democratic incumbent Ann Richards in 1994 to become governor of Texas and was re-elected in 1998. The Lone Star State is clearly among the most conservative in the country, but Gov. Bush helped turn what was once a reliably Democratic state into one where Republicans now dominate. Jeb, meanwhile, lost a hard-fought race for governor in Florida in 1994. But he came back four years later and was re-elected in 2002, despite the residual bitterness from the 2000 presidential election and the Democrats’ decision to make his defeat a priority.
With a strong string of electoral victories, why would Republicans now turn their backs on the Bushes? It certainly wouldn’t be because of Jeb’s record in Florida. He’s been steadily amassing an antitax, bedrock conservative record over the past seven years. There’s not much there that the party’s base is going to hate. Indeed, before he lost in 1994, the scuttlebutt on Jeb was that he was “the conservative Bush.”
Perhaps the most compelling reason why Jeb Bush shouldn’t be written off just yet came Friday with the Labor Department’s latest jobs numbers. With some 200,000 net new jobs created in July and some 3.5 million new jobs over the past two years, it’s getting harder to deny we are now in the midst of a Bush boom. John Kerry’s claims of a jobless recovery notwithstanding, every job lost after the dot-com crash and the 9/11 attacks has long since been replaced. True, the housing market may yet tumble. But the Fed keeps raising interest rates out of fear the economy will get too hot, not too cold. If we get three more years of solid economic expansion, voters may decide that keeping a Bush in the White House is good for their wallets. After all, the Bush tax cuts are now set to expire in the middle of the next president’s first term.
Aside from the tax cuts, it’s rather absurd to suggest that George W. Bush has given us “incrementally smaller government.” Federal spending and the span of control over things previously the province of state and local governments now under federal control have continued to expand under his watch.
That aside, even his own father has admitted that the country is unlikely to be ready for another Bush in 2008. Jeb is still young enough that he could run in 2012 or even 2016, if a Republican wins again in 2012.
Aside from the family name issue, which may or may not be an asset in a couple of years depending on how Iraq and some other issues develop, Jeb has some serious family issues to consider. His wife and daughter are both political liabilities. While neither’s issues are sufficient to deny him the presidency, he may not wish to have them dragged through the mud for an entire presidential election cycle.