A third President Bush?

By Jonathan Bradley in Newcastle, Australia

28 March 2011

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush

In the comments, Judith Dimitrov asked of the Republican primary race: "What about the rumours that Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are tooling up to launch Jeb Bush?"

It's a fair question. Jeb Bush, the younger brother of the 43rd President George W. Bush, was the son the Bush family originally expected to reach political greatness. He did, to some extent; he served two terms as Governor of Florida, and enjoyed high public approval while in office. But his younger brother George was the one who reached the Presidency first. For some time, Jeb has been talked about as the third president the Bush family will send to the White House.

That said, I don't think it will happen in 2012. Bush told Politico last month that he wasn't interested in a run next year, which doesn't actually rule him out of contention. Politicians are wont to declare they have no interest in the presidency until the day they enter the race. And high profile conservatives have been calling for Jeb to run; Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) and National Review columnist Rich Lowry, for instance, have talked him up.

But Bush hasn't been laying the groundwork for a nomination: copious speaking engagements, for intance, or frequent visits to the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire. That doesn't mean it's too late for him to start, but it does suggest he's telling the truth when denying his interest in a 2012 run. Further, while American opinion of George W. Bush has softened a bit since he left office, he's still widely disliked. The Bush name might still excite the Republican right, but it reminds the general population of Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, and the financial crisis. GOP politicians are often loath to speak too well of George W., and Jeb will be less easily able to convince voters that he thought his brother did a bad job. Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney can claim they disapproved of the economic stewardship of President Bush as well as Obama. Jeb, however, will find it difficult to distance himself from Obama's predecessor. With the economy likely to still be suffering the effects of a recession voters blame on President Bush, that will be a severe handicap.

That doesn't mean it's impossible for Jeb Bush to ever get the presidency. He hasn't ruled out a 2016 run, and though, as Lowry points out, he'll still be a Bush then, the economy will likely have improved enough that it won't be a crippling handicap. It is likely, however, that Bush's time has been and gone. A third president from the same family would be a lot for Americans to swallow, and as successful as the Bush name has been, it doesn't even have the positive connotations today that Clinton or Kennedy does. (And those names carry a lot of baggage with their positive connotations.) Time may prove me wrong, but I believe if America ever has another President Bush, he or she will come from at least one generation beyond the current one.

Tags: Election 2012, Florida, George W Bush, Jeb Bush, Jim Demint, Mitt Romney, Republican Party, Republican Primary 2012, Rich Lowry, Tim Pawlenty

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