WASHINGTON – I guess I am also part of faulty conventional wisdom when it comes to US presidential politics. I believed that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush had a great chance to become the Republican nominee. I was wrong.
I thought that Jeb Bush brought to the table an impressive record as a two term Governor. He also has good credentials when it comes to relaunching the GOP as an inclusive political force focused on expanded opportunity for the poor, minorities and Hispanics. He is a serious proponent of public education reform.
Well, all this is true. Still, I was wrong because I underestimated the strength of the anti-establishment sentiment this year. Bush may be great. But probable Republican primary voters are just not interested. They are not buying.
On top of that, Bush proved to be a mediocre, in fact bad stump politician. You would think that someone with that kind of experience would be at ease campaigning and debating. But he is not. He looks awkward, out of place. His demeanor is bland. Well, this may be fixable. But fixing it is predicated on Bush’s ability to quickly reinvent himself and present to the voters a different persona. Doable in theory, but very difficult, this late in the game.
A bad name
Well, if demeanor on the campaign trail is a big issue, Bush’s family name may be a truly insurmountable obstacle. Simply stated, it is now clear that the Republicans are fed up with the old political establishment. And Jeb Bush, even though he never held any position in Washington, is part of a political dynasty that is not remembered fondly.
His brother George W. Bush (President until January 2009) is linked to the disastrous Iraq War and to the onset of the devastating 2008 “Great Recession” with the ensuing financial crisis. Not a great legacy.
Out of the game
As things stand now, even though Jeb Bush was a good Governor and not part of his brother’s administration, the family name and the blood connection may be enough to kill his candidacy. Hence Jeb’s extremely low numbers in all the polls.
As I said before, beyond his name, Bush revealed other personality problems that may sink him anyway. Given all this, he is probably finished as a candidate.
Coalesce around a credible moderate
Well, if this is indeed so, then it would make sense for him and his supporters to coalesce around another pragmatic reformer who can appeal beyond the traditional GOP base in the general election. My preference would be for John Kasich.
But I realize that Kasich is also viewed as another establishment candidate. He has been around too much. Never mind that he has been an extremely capable Congressman, (former Chairman of the Budget Committee), and an excellent Governor of Ohio. None of this matters this year. For pretty much the same reasons, you can take New Jersey Governor Chris Christie out.
Is Rubio the man?
Well, who’s left? Florida Senator Marco Rubio. He is young, and different. The son of humble Cuban immigrants who had to struggle to get ahead, Rubio is a credible proponent of a new Republican Party that will create opportunities for a changed America. He is young, good-looking, reasonably articulate and, unlike Bush, he looks enthusiastic.
Well, is Rubio the man? I do not know, but the moderates better make up their minds –and fast.
Trump leading by default
If the reasonable, future oriented, inclusive Republican moderates fail to unite around one of them, then we are left with the absurd candidates. Donald Trump is still doing reasonably well. But he is struggling to get above 25%.
Still, with all the moderates below 10%, assuming that Trump somehow manages to get the Republican nomination, there is no way that he will be able to win against Clinton. Not from such a narrow, if loyal, base of angry “anti-everything” voters.
Carson not credible
The same applies to Dr. Ben Carson. He is an interesting man with a compelling personal story. A classic “rags-to-riches” story that proves how at least in some cases sheer determination and creativity can lift people out of poverty.
But Carson is an even more improbable nominee. He has almost no public policy experience. He is a neuro surgeon. What does he know about entitlements, national security, and energy? What does he understand about the Federal Budget, or Social Security? Practically nothing. He never held any public office.
Pick a candidate who is different but electable
I do understand, up to a point, that Republican voters are looking for someone “different”. I get that. But there should be a distinction between different and being laughable –and therefore unelectable. Trump and Carson, for very different reasons, are both laughable and unelectable.
Can the smart moderates coalesce around a candidate who can appeal to the conservative base but also to the uncommitted in the middle who always decide all presidential elections, with a political program founded on expanded opportunity and inclusiveness?
I believe they can. But they should hurry. Battling each other (witness the Bush Rubio fight) while Trump continues to claim, with cause, that he is the GOP front-runner is bad for them, bad for the party, and certainly bad for America.