Saturday, January 3, 2015

Can Jeb Win in 2016?

With all the hoopla about whether or not Hillary Clinton will run for president, another political dynasty is about to see the third member of its family climb into the presidential ring. Jeb Bush is just days, if not hours away from announcing he will seek the Republican nomination. The big question many are asking is whether he can survive what will undoubtedly be the most grueling test he or any GOP candidate will endure.

Let's face it, the last two GOP presidential nominees were damaged goods by the time they began their general election campaigns. If history is any indication, the third time will not be a charm. That's because the primary process of the Republican Party forces its candidates so far over to the right that it is impossible for them to pivot back to the center in the remaining two months before the general election.

In 2008, John McCain, bowing to pressure from the base, chose Sarah Palin as his running rate, rather than Joe Lieberman, who many thought would've made a far better choice. He was trounced in the general. Likewise, in 2012, Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan in an effort to appease the base, instead of someone like Florida senator Marco Rubio or Ohio senator Rob Portman, either of whom might've delivered their respective state in the general. Like McCain four years earlier, Romney was routed.

Both losses were attributed by the Republican base to a lack of conviction. The problem they said was that neither McCain nor Romney were real conservatives. What the GOP needed was for an authentic conservative, a true disciple, to inspire the electorate and lead the Party to victory.

Yes, the old "we weren't conservative enough" mantra, that's it. Only Jeb isn't buying into the program. He has publicly rejected that conventional unwisdom, saying that any nominee has to be willing to "lose the primary to win the general." I'll say this for him, he's the first Republican in about a decade who's had the guts to call a spade a spade. He's Mitt Romney only with a spine and a soul.

But can he really pull it off? Can Jeb Bush manage to make it through the circus that has become the Republican primaries? Somehow, I doubt it. The fact is there are way too many wingnuts in the Party whose perception of the country is so warped and distorted, Reagan would have a difficult time winning the nomination.

But let's for a moment forget all that. Let's say Jeb can somehow convince enough of the inmates to vote for him. Okay, he gets trounced in Iowa. No surprise there; in fact, that's good news. Turns out, winning Iowa doesn't help GOP candidates all that much. The real prize is New Hampshire. I think Jeb has a real shot in that state. Then he goes down to South Carolina and, like Iowa, gets his ass handed to him. He wins Florida and is competitive in enough of the other states to make it close. Indeed, with many of the other candidates cancelling themselves out vying for the most batshit crazy vote, it's conceivable that Bush could swoop in and pick off a good number of the more winnable primaries. It wouldn't shock me at all to see a brokered convention. And you know anything can happen at a brokered convention.

So, Jeb wins the nod. But can he win the general? In a word, yes.

Yes, his last name is Bush and he's the brother of the worst president in modern history - sorry Tea Party, it's not Barack Obama. That's a huge burden to overcome. But consider these points.

1. Jeb isn't George. Anyone who has spent even a few minutes in the company of both men will instantly be able to tell the difference. One is thoughtful, informed and competent; the other was the 43rd president of the United States.

2. Despite the Party affiliation, Jeb is not a hard-line conservative. Yes, he played an integral role in getting his brother over the hump in 2000 while governor of Florida, but on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extreme hard right, he's about a 6 or a 7 at best. He's more like his father than his brother, and in a country deeply polarized by partisan politics, that could resonate with voters.

3. His views on immigration and education are more mainstream than any Republican candidate in over a decade. So mainstream in fact, he could pull many moderates who've grown wary of how far to the right the Party has drifted back over to the GOP.

4. He will have a boatload of money at his disposal. If you thought the Clintons were loaded, the Bushes are REALLY loaded. If the fortunes of both families were ships, the Clintons would be the Queen Mary and the Bushes would be the Exxon Valdez. Not counting soft money, Jeb would have a sizable leg up on Hillary. With soft money, it wouldn't even be close. The ratio could easily be 3 to 1. Think money can't play a role with two candidates so well known? Tell that to Charlie Crist, who went into the last two weeks of his election bid with a small lead over Rick Scott. Then the money really poured into Scott's campaign and Crist lost. In a close general election, money could well be the determining factor.

So, yes, Jeb Bush could win. Assuming he wins the Republican nomination, he could beat Hillary or Warren or whoever the Democratic nominee is. He could become the 45th president of the United States. And, with a Republican-controlled Congress, would be in a position to roll back many of the progressive gains of the last six years. Not to mention getting to appoint at least one or two Supreme Court justices.

All that could happen. Is it likely? No. Thankfully the odds of him emerging as the nominee are slim. But consider this: eight years ago the prospects of a black president also seemed highly unlikely. Is it really all that difficult to conceive of a third Bush presidency?

Stranger things have happened.

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