These have not been easy days for Governor Jeb Bush of Florida. Several of his most prized policy proposals were shot down in flames last week by the state legislature, casting him as a lame-duck leader, while his newest flap is about an approaching US Senate race that his party is all but certain to lose.
Complicating matters was the prospect of a visit to Orlando earlier this week by his elder brother, George, the President. Reporters would be lobbing questions about the Senate race mess and also about his own next move - he is approaching the end of his second term as Governor and can't run again.
Jeb, 53, has been sticking determinedly to his text about having seven months still to go before relinquishing his post and lots more work to do. Until his brother opened his mouth in a group interview with Florida reporters on Wednesday evening.
It was during a stopover in St Petersburg that the President chose to plant the idea - not exactly for the first time - that his younger sibling should be thinking about higher political office when he leaves the Governor's mansion in Tallahassee next January. He should be thinking about the White House. "I think Jeb would be a great president. But it's up to Jeb to make a decision to run," the President declared. "He is an extraordinary person who has proven his capacity as apolitical figure... In my judgement, his political future is very bright if he chooses to have a political future."
The President hinted that Jeb making a run in 2008 has been the subject of family conversations. "I have no idea what he's gong to do," he said. "I've asked him that question myself. I truly don't think he knows." He added he has "pushed him fairly hard about what he intends to do".
The Governor, who was on the other side of the state at the time attending a hurricane conference in Fort Lauderdale, was obliged on Wednesday night to repeat his ritual denials. We are still to believe, therefore, that he will return to private life, which probably means wheeling and dealing in Miami. His first response was in Spanish, which he speaks fluently. "I love my brother," he said with a broad, perhaps mildly embarrassed, smile. "His words were very beautiful. But I am not thinking of running for president. I aspire to be the best governor possible until the end of my mandate."
In English, he made the point more clearly, additionally trying to lay to rest rumours that he may himself step into the breach to seek the Senate seat. "I'm not running for president, I'm not running for United States Senate. I'm not going to run." Then he asked: "Why doesn't everyone believe me on this?"
It is true that the notion of President Jeb refuses to go away. His elder brother sparked the first round of speculation at the beginning of last year when he dispatched Jeb to South-east Asia to visit areas devastated by the tsunami along with former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The idea, some said, was to build up the Governor's international credentials.
Then it was the turn of his father, the first President George Bush, who said during an interview with CNN's Larry King that Jeb would be "awfully good" as president. "This guy's smart, big and strong. Makes the decisions." It is well known that when Bush senior used to wonder about which of his offspring would follow him into the White House, it was Jeb he initially thought of, not George.
Of course, the dynastic quality of a putative Jeb-for-President run also piques the media's interest greatly. It would be the first time in the history of the country that two brothers have assumed the office of Comman-der-in-Chief. And, by the way, while George is the 43rd President, Jeb is the 43rd Governor of Florida. The idea that Jeb should become 44th President, therefore, has a sort of quaint mathematical appeal.
The scenario is even more intriguing because of the parallel dynastic dance going on in the Democratic camp. …