The 2014 midterms are looming large, and behind them, the specter of 2016. In the past year, Chris Christie has gone from being the Republican Wunderkind to elephant in the room, and Hilary Clinton is, well, Hilary Clinton. What is the modern-day Republican Party – a Völkisch (ethnic nationalist) political party become religion – to do? Clearly, it’s time for the Republican establishment to start asking themselves, “Where are we going to find a sane candidate?” (or at least sane-seeming, as 2012’s misadventure with Mitt Romney demonstrates).
The answer is already in the history books, not that Republicans like to look there. We see it every election cycle: a rush of increasingly insane extremist Republicans appealing to the base, slack-brained, wannabe libertarian Tea Partiers and religious fundamentalists, sometimes all rolled up into the same package, as with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the non-thinking white man’s Christian Nationalist.
The rest of the field will be just as nutty, if not nuttier, and if past is indicator of future, the primaries will winnow out those too crazy for the market to bear – you know, the Todd Akins and the Michele Bachmanns and their ilk, whatever sleight of hand Reince Priebus thinks he can work to the contrary. And then there will be the establishment Republicans, like Mitt Romney, their platform – and sometimes, it seems, the candidates themselves – held together with chewing gum and baling wire and maybe the odd smile.
Mitt Romney has gone the way of the buffalo, never to return. He proved too stupid for the educated masses (despite his binders full of women), if not for mainstream Republicans – whatever and whoever they are – and yet not stupid enough for the base. Despite the monstrous Preibosity that said America really wanted Mitt, Mitt is not, and was not, the answer.
But the GOP knows it needs somebody who has at least a slim chance of not frightening the independent voters, and completely turning off women and minorities, somebody like Mitt but a little smarter, a little more clued into everyday life, someone who does not, say, make churlish remarks about rain gear to a crowd of people standing in the rain who lack his off-shore accounts.
That man is likely to be 61-year-old former Florida governor Jeb Bush come 2016. Jeb says he will decide by the end of the year, but speculation is running high, and it’s possible there is some bedwetting behind the scenes. As Jeb told Fox News’ Shannon Bream Sunday, “It turns out that not running has generated more interest than if I said I was running.”
Whatever hopes the GOP may have for stealing – or at least buying – the elections in 2014, they know presidential elections are another thing altogether. Yes, they stole 2000, and thanks to 2000 they got 2004, but all things being equal, you get 2008 and 2012, and in 2016, you get Hilary Clinton.
Well, go figure where bedwetting is concerned. Republicans are haunted by thoughts of Bill Clinton, let alone the latest liberal perversions, a black man and now a woman of all things, in the Oval Office. And they know that extremist candidates don’t fare well nationally, no matter how attractive they may look going into the primaries. Yes, Rand Paul can win Iowa; he can even win CPAC, but can he win the country?
Republicans have to have mixed feelings about Bush though, even so. For going on six years now they have been pretending Jeb’s brother, George W., never existed, blaming all his lame-brained decisions on his successor, Barack Obama. Iraq and, especially, Afghanistan, became Obama’s wars, and terrorists never attacked the U.S. on Bush’s watch but look what happened in Benghazi on Obama’s! If Jeb runs, George W. is suddenly back in the news, and the Eight Missing Years are back in our history books. There will be the inevitable and unwelcome comparisons.
As even Newsmax admitted Sunday of this post-Bush America,
Recent polls have suggested that if he were to run, Bush would have to deal with Americans’ lingering attitudes toward his brother, George W. Bush, who left office in January 2009 as one of the least popular presidents in U.S. history.
In a Washington Post/ABC News poll last month, nearly half the voters surveyed said they “definitely would not” vote for Jeb Bush in 2016.
That’s not something Republicans can be eager to dredge up, especially in an election year. But what other reasonably sane candidate can they conjure up? Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are part of the problem, not the solution for the Republican establishment. And from there, it just gets uglier, with the Rick Santorums and Michele Bachmanns of the world. It is anybody’s guess who this year’s Todd Akin will be.
Jeb, for his part, says his decision all boils down to two questions:
1. “Can a candidate run with a hopeful, optimistic message, hopefully with enough detail to get people to sense that it’s not just idle words, and not get thrown back into the vortex of the mud fight?” and,
2. “Is it okay for my family? Is it something that isn’t a huge sacrifice for my family?”
Clearly, those aren’t the concerns of the Republican Party, which hasn’t stopped slinging mud since Obama’s victory in 2008. And if we thought we were seeing mud then, we realized we hadn’t seen anything until 2010 rolled around. Republican rhetoric since then has become positively scatological, as has their mindset.
The trouble is, unlike Chris “Bridgegate” Christie, Bush seems to have some genuinely moderate positions, for example, on immigration, where he calls illegal immigration an “act of love.” This isn’t likely to endear him to the ethnic nationalist Republican base, which these days places a premium on ignorant white men with guns and a vague notion of God, and all too often conflates the two, and which far from seeing immigration as an act of love prefers to see it as an act of terrorism.
Jeb told the crowd at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, “We need to elect candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader, and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making a point. Campaigns ought to be about listening and learning and getting better. I do think we’ve lost our way.”
He was quick to point out for the benefit of potential donors, “I’m not being critical of my party, but campaigns themselves are reflective of this new America.” He’s not sayin’. He’s just sayin’.
With eyes increasingly on him, Jeb Bush signaled on Sunday the kind of campaign he would mount if he runs for president, one arguing against ideological purity tests while challenging party orthodoxy on issues like immigration and education.
It will be interesting to see where that gets him, and how well he holds to those positions. Romney, for his part, seemed to lean ever more to the right as his campaign went on.
When interviewed, Jeb sounds smatter than his brother (admittedly, not much of an accomplishment) and there is no comparison with Mitt, given Jeb’s ability to form coherent sentences. But the question raised by the Times of whether the country has moved beyond Bush seems to at least be headed in the right direction, though I might rephrase it to ask, “Has conservatism moved beyond sanity?” If so, Jeb Bush will fare little better than Barack Obama, even if he makes it as far as the White House.