Can Jeb Bush Win at the Game of Thrones? the Republicans' Top Political Dynasty Considers Another Bid for the White House

Article excerpt

Byline: Matthew Cooper

The conservatives were ornery, even angry.

They had come to see their hero speak, and their patience with the patrician, Yale-educated Bush, second on the bill, was short--especially when he chided the conservative main attraction. The crowd booed.

"I never saw such a wild bunch of monkeys," he later recalled. It was a not an atypical moment for a Bush, trying to reach out to conservatives and finding them congenitally wary of an Eastern Brahmin more comfortable at Skull and Bones than throwing red meat.

This moment didn't come in 1964, as George H.W. Bush ran for a Senate seat as an ally of Barry Goldwater. It didn't come in 1980s, when he was Ronald Reagan's running mate. It didn't come when George W. Bush ran for president in 2000. It came in 1952, and the boos flew at Memorial Hall in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The Bush pilloried was Senator Prescott Bush, father of President George H.W. Bush and grandfather to Jeb and "Dubya." Prescott was a Connecticut Republican, a formal man who was fond of donning a suit for dinner, who proudly sang with Yale's Whiffenpoof a cappella group and who often insisted on being called "Senator."

The guest speaker that night was the hero of the ultraconservatives, Senator Joe McCarthy. Prescott made little attempt to conceal that he loathed the anti-Communist witch hunter. Prescott was close to President Dwight Eisenhower, whose administration McCarthy savaged as a harbor for traitors and Communists.

So it was with some trepidation that Prescott, then running for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut, shared the stage of the art deco theater with McCarthy. Eventually, Prescott became an outspoken Republican critic of "Tailgunner Joe." Yet, in a moment emblematic of the Bushes' pride in courtesy--all those handwritten notes! the meticulous manners!--Prescott also was one of McCarthy's last visitors at Bethesda Naval Hospital before his alcohol-fueled death in 1957.

Dealing with razor-sharp conservative opponents is difficult for any Republican to the left of Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas wrecking ball who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to McCarthy. This spring, venerable and courtly Republicans such as Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi are staving off Tea Party-infused primary challenges. And it's not just those running for re-election. Being speaker of the House is like herding cats, wrote one of its alumni, but for House Majority Leader John Boehner, it was like taming tigers as he tried to soothe the Tea Party's Class of 2010.

Every generation of office-holding Bushes must confront the same dilemma about how to deal with ultraconservatives. Not because they're secretly moderate; they're not. But their ambition forces them to confront the problem in ways that are more pronounced than it would be for, say, George W. Smith or Jeb Jones. Their family history is both the source of their strength and, at times, its undoing.

Putting together coalitions broad enough to capture first the GOP nomination, then the general election is hard for any candidate having without fundamental conservatives thinking you're faking it. The Bush version of Downton Abbey--competing lineages masked by family unity, financial ambition hidden beneath a life of Yale diplomas and seemingly effortless athleticism--is what propels them into the arena, just as it gives their opponents something to skewer.

But almost every time the Bushes campaign, they have to contend with being outflanked by their party's ultraconservative-wing, and as Jeb decides whether or not to run for president, the question lingers: Will he be upended by more conservative opponents or find a way to tame them? The family's history, including Jeb's, shows that it's very tough, particularly this year. Fielding a third Bush in 30 years may not be the charm.


Prescott declined to run for re-election to the Senate in 1962, fearing that his genteel Republicanism--too conservative for Connecticut, too progressive for his party--could no longer sustain a Greenwich man who had been president of the U. …