Blame Dick Cheney For Jeb Bush’s Base Problems

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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My latest column for The Week grapples with why the conservative base backed George W. Bush in 2000, but is giving the cold shoulder to brother Jeb today. There are multiple reasons, but RedState’s Erick Erickson hits on a fascinating theory that I missed. In short, blame Dick Cheney.

According to Erickson, the absence of a successor who would stand for election in his own right, and whose candidacy would symbolically allow us to embrace or reject (and possibly take our frustrations out on!) the Bush legacy, deprived us of the opportunity to air our grievances and move on. Bush’s heir apparent might have been defeated, clearing the air, or maybe he or she would have adequately defended the Bush legacy. Either way, it was unsatisfying. We lacked resolution.

Because “George W. Bush did not have a successor run in his stead, conservatives never had the cathartic moment of either embracing his legacy in a primary, rejecting it, or adjusting it,” Erickson writes.

Here’s why it matters to Jeb. Since neither McCain nor Romney afforded us the opportunity to go through this necessary healing process, “Jeb Bush…become the closest proxy to serve as a referendum on his brother’s legacy.” In other words, Jeb offers conservatives their first opportunity to express frustration and disappointment at the George W. Bush administration.

There’s something primal and psychological at play here. We could have gotten this out of our system in 2008 had Bush selected a younger running mate with aspirations for the White House. It is often assumed that Dick Cheney’s lack of personal political ambition was solely positive and noble — and had only salutary benefits. But I would argue there were unintended consequences. And Jeb might be part of the collateral damage.