Jeb Bush is not the most “electable” GOP presidential contender because the family that he represents is not electable now and truly has never been more electable than ideological conservatives. It’s a historical fact.
Bloomberg writer Mark Halperin this week fawningly suggested that Bush is the electable Republican hopeful in the field. Uh, sure. Everyday Republicans are just chomping at the bit to nominate this donor-friendly prepster who would pick up the ball from his brother on federal school reform and give corporations cheap labor with an immigration package. (Why do liberals always feel the need to “help” Republicans out with political advice about who they should nominate? In that spirit, I’ve got a suggestion for them: Howard Dean. 2016 is that guy’s year, man. He’s ready.)
This all fits into the media’s narrative about how the upstart tea party that won the House in 2010 could never run a viable national campaign around a candidate like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz. The media thinks that the “uncharacteristic chaos,” as Halperin called it, playing out in the Republican Party right now is something completely new. Therefore, the tea party, in contrast to the permanence of the Bush-dominated establishment, is something completely new. It’s not.
Did these predominately older tea partiers just show up out of nowhere at town halls and health-care rallies in 2010 after having never paid attention to politics before? Of course not. Many were Reagan voters and conservatives before the Bushes ever came to power. The tea party is not merely reactionary. It’s not a marginal angry outburst. It’s the re-emergence of a very electable kind of politics that only became temporarily dormant during the Bush years. The Bushes, meanwhile, have hardly ever been electable, and only when masquerading as something they’re not.
Let’s take a stroll through history to review this “Powerful Establishment vs. Weak Conservative” paradigm, which exists largely because the last two Republican presidents have been named Bush. Let’s go to 1980.
Ronald Reagan, a non-establishment Republican figure up to that point, pounded East Coaster and former Republican National Committee chairman George H.W. Bush in the primary with more than seven and a half million votes to Bush’s three million. Reagan, the conservative movement ideologue, had no intention of picking Bush as his running mate. If the original Reagan-Gerald Ford ticket had worked out during a last-minute frenzy at the convention, then the Bushes, already shrinking in demographic power, would have faded from major party politics. Bush would have returned to the background where he could serve, as Nixon said of him, as the “kind of person you appoint to things.”
Few talk about the reluctance with which Reagan picked Bush. Theirs was not the close partnership that Bill Clinton implied when he railed against 12 years of “Reagan-Bush” in his 1992 campaign. Bush was always a political and domestic policy outsider in the Reagan White House, relegated primarily to the role of foreign policy adviser and point man on U.S. Middle East policy during the last decade of the Cold War — a war that could not have been won without Reagan’s firm commitment to fiscal conservatism and economic strength at home. A Republican insider during the 1980s told me that the concept of Bush’s presidency, even as late as Reagan’s second term, seemed like “science fiction” to almost everyone.