Magazine article The Spectator

Get Ready for Bush III

Magazine article The Spectator

Get Ready for Bush III

Article excerpt

John Ellis 'Jeb' Bush insists he doesn't want to run for president. Don't believe a word of it

The next presidential election is 26 months away and already the parties are fretting about it. Barring a disaster, President Obama will be the Democratic candidate, but history is not treating him well. When he took office, the millennial hopes raised by his candidacy bumped into the realities of a long recession and two hard wars. He was just another politician, after all, not a messiah.

But if the Democrats have come down to earth with a bump, the Republicans are still trying to shake their post-2008 hangover.

John McCain lost badly and won't be back.

His running mate Sarah Palin, the Alaska maverick, is loved by some Republicans but hated by others. Party managers know that she is a polarising figure, unlikely to attract voters from the electorate's big grey middle, the dull folks who are essential to winning campaigns. That's why so many Republican eyes have alighted on John Ellis Bush ('Jeb'), son of one president, brother of another, and a seasoned politician in his own right.

There's much to be said for Jeb (born 1953). He is the only Republican in history to win two consecutive terms as governor of Florida (in 1998 and 2002). He would have won again in 2006 but the state constitution limits governors to a maximum of two four-year terms. If he runs for president he can compete strongly for votes that don't come easily to most Republicans. His wife Columba was born and raised in Mexico, he favours a liberal immigration policy, and he speaks fluent Spanish. That gives him a boost with the ever-growing Hispanic population, much of which normally votes Democrat. He opposed drilling off the Florida coast, which makes him seem wise and environmentally sensitive to Floridians suffering from the terrible BP spill in the Gulf. His education initiatives are admired across the spectrum and have drawn sympathetic notice in the black community, which is usually another hard sell for the GOP. He was popular in Florida right to the end of his term.

On the other hand, there's much to be said against Jeb, starting (fairly or unfairly) with his relatives' shortcomings. His father promised no tax increases, then imposed tax increases, then lost to Bill Clinton. By the time his older brother left office, early last year, it was difficult to find anyone willing to say a kind word about him. 'W' plumbed new depths in presidential unpopularity polls and left office with the economy in a tailspin and unemployment vaulting upward.

Another problem is that Jeb tells interviewers wherever he goes that he is not a candidate for president - he says he's just a business consultant. The coy fellow who poses as a non-candidate until he becomes one is a familiar figure, so these disavowals can be taken with a pinch of salt. On the other hand Jeb may indeed shrink from the ordeal of a two-year campaign, especially if its prospects of success have been torpedoed beforehand by the legacy of an inept brother.

Consider the history of presidential brothers. A few were eminent figures in their own right, such as Milton Eisenhower (18991985), who became a university president at age 44, ten years before Dwight's election. Another was Robert Kennedy (19251968), attorney general under JFK and then a presidential candidate in 1968. …

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