Until Rick Perry swaggered into the race for president — and proceeded to instantly become a front-runner — conventional wisdom said that Bush fatigue precluded a Texas governor from running in 2012.
It was also thought that another popular and accomplished former governor — also from an important state — couldn’t run.
His name was Jeb Bush.
In a weak Republican field, the notion that a popular governor of Texas — and a popular former governor of Florida — were both disqualified now sounds absurd. But it’s important to remember just how unpopular George W. Bush was by the end of his presidency.
Ultimately, the opportunity beckoned, and Perry’s early (and seemingly easy) success has inevitably caused some observes to reexamine whether or not Bush should have run. His last name was, after all, presumably the only thing stopping him. As former McCain and Pawlenty new media strategist Patrick Hynes told me, Jeb Bush has “a record of accomplishment that would stand out even if his name were ‘Lipschitz.’”
Yet there is little doubt that smart strategists would have cautioned Bush against running so soon after his brother’s term ended. Even Perry, who isn’t burdened with the Bush last name (or by the word “dynasty”), showed little inclination of running until a variety of unexpected pieces miraculously fell into place. (In fairness, it could be argued that, in terms of appearance and demeanor, Perry is burdened with being stylistically more similar to George W. Bush than Jeb is.)
GOP strategist Dan Hazelwood thinks it’s a mistake to listen to the so-called experts when deciding on whether or not to enter a race. “Conventional wisdom is so frequently flawed,” he said, that “anyone who relies on it for such a momentous decision is likely going to get it wrong.”
Hazelwood also thinks it’s a mistake for potential candidates to focus too much on timing: “People who focus on timing more than message and hard work usually get the timing wrong,” he said.
Fools rush in, but Rick Perry took his time before making the plunge. Still, he did get in, and it seems to have paid off. Could Jeb Bush have overcome the Bush stigma, too? On one hand, Jeb would likely be handicapped by the inability to criticize his brother’s policies (Perry faces no such hurdle).
But it could be argued that Bush missed a golden opportunity by playing it too safe.
“Running for President is a guts game, plain and simple,” says Republican strategist Paul Wilson, who has worked for candidates including Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. “You can strategize and second-guess all you want but in the end if you want to be President, you have to run for president. Perry pushed all his chips in to the pot and Jeb did not play the hand.”
But Alberto Martinez, a Republican consultant who often works in Florida, believes Bush’s decision to stay out of the presidential race has little to do with a political calculus. “A typical politician would sit down and commission a poll about whether his last name would be a detriment or not,” he said. “I can’t for the life of me picture Governor Bush ever doing that. It’s a gut decision for him. If he felt it in his gut, he’d be running.”
It is, of course, not too late for Jeb to jump in. But whether it’s Jeb Bush or Chris Christie or Sarah Palin — Martinez cautions against praying in vain for a savior (candidate) to rise from these streets. “People need to get over it and start supporting the candidates that are running,” he said.
He may be right. As former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld said: “… you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time”…