What if the Republican Party could field a presidential nominee able to guarantee victory in the state of Florida, and perhaps across the entire South? What if this person also possesses twice the executive governing experience as the GOP’s current front-runner, Mitt Romney, and is broadly considered the best Republican governor in recent decades? Finally, what if this person espouses precisely the limited government philosophy for which dispirited Republicans yearn?
To wit, what if the Republican Party turned its lowly eyes to Jeb Bush?
In the wake of Super Tuesday, with Romney capturing the grand prize of Ohio, Rick Santorum making a hat-trick of Oklahoma, North Dakota and Tennessee, Newt Gingrich winning Georgia, and Ron Paul giving everyone another stern lecture, no one is satisfied.
More than this, there is real and growing concern that none of these candidates, including and especially Romney, can defeat Barack Obama in November.
The question becomes, then, could Jeb Bush beat Barack Obama, especially if he did not secure the nomination until the GOP Convention at the end of August? Boy howdy, he could.
As the first Republican governor re-elected in Florida since Reconstruction, Jeb could carry the Sunshine State with his little finger. The rest of the South, including Virginia and North Carolina (which wandered haplessly into Democratic territory in 2008), would be pleased as punch to pull the lever for a proper conservative. Hence, Jeb removes the South from contention in a way Romney, in particular, could not.
From there, Bush’s record of accomplishment and straightforward philosophy on the role of the public sector — he maintains that government should do nothing that is advertised in the Yellow Pages — would create a welcome contrast with Obama, and rekindle enthusiasm among Republican voters.
Apart from the logistical challenges of launching a run at this late date (discussed below), there are two major impediments to Bush’s presidential candidacy: branding and will.
Branding is the easy bit. There are many who negatively associate Jeb Bush with the presidencies of his brother and father. Years ago, after I published a newspaper column extoling Jeb’s success as Florida governor and suggesting he would make a potent president, one fellow responded, “I wouldn’t listen to another Bush if it were burning.”
But consider, gentle reader, your own parents and siblings. Would it be fair, or accurate, for folks to suppose you think and act precisely as members of your family do? Whatever your opinion of the previous Bush presidencies, as Floridians can attest, Jeb is his own man.
As to the deeper challenge, that of will, the man simply does not want to do it, as he has said as much.
On a personal and professional basis, Gov. Bush has for some time been profoundly tolerant of my nonsense, and my incessant needling that he run for president. On that latter point, I am nowhere near alone, as myriad Republicans have been trying to coax him into the race for some time.
Jeb has allowed me to interview him for television and print, and, on-camera about a year ago, he was plain as can be in telling me he was not going to be a candidate. The specific reason he gave then was that he does not favor ethanol subsidies, which suggests he would not be competitive in Iowa. But the Iowa caucuses are long over, Santorum won (sort of) and, even if Bush’s perfectly defensible position on this issue caused him to lose the state’s six Electoral College votes, he could still muddle along to victory.