Politics & Policy

Why Jeb?

(Alex Wong/Getty)
There is no obvious case for Bush III.

If the 2016 presidential election ends up a contest between 1992’s surnames — Bush vs. Clinton — we will have failed in some way as a republic.

The case for Jeb Bush is not exactly clear, though he enjoys an advantage vis-à-vis Mrs. Clinton in that the case against Herself is as clear as can be: She’s inept and dishonest.

Bush was a good governor of Florida — a long time ago, politically speaking. Things were different then: His time as governor coincided with a real-estate bubble that relieved him and other Florida leaders of the need to make a great many pressing financial decisions, and larger decisions about the structure of government.

In that, he very much resembles the woman against whom he presumably would be running: The Democratic heiress-apparent traffics remorselessly in Nineties nostalgia, recalling those halcyon days when a decade or so of private-sector investment in information technology suddenly collided with this new thing called the web, producing a great explosion of wonder and money. We Generation Xers are an inconsolable bunch of complainers, but if there was a better year in American history to be finishing college than 1996, I do not know what it was. But like the present-day Chinese economy of angst and lore, the American dot-com boom was a combination of genuine economic activity and bubblicious, politics-driven delusion. Indeed, it is a wonder that there wasn’t a tulip-bulb startup with a trillion-dollar valuation.

RELATED: Jeb’s Sudden Free Fall

It is in the nature of bubbles to burst. George W. Bush et al. performed with no special distinction on economic and fiscal matters during the turbulent post-Clinton period; and, if anything, the current governor of Florida, Rick Scott, has a more impressive record in office than his predecessor-once-removed did, all things considered. About the intervening figure, the less said the better.

#share#Bush is, of course, a heretic. There are those of us who like a little heresy in our candidates, if only as evidence that they remain capable of genuine thought, but Bush’s deviationism makes it rough going for him both as a matter of substance and as a matter of pure politics. Apologetics notwithstanding, Common Core is an undesirable outgrowth of the centralizing and federalizing impulse in educational matters, and an occasionally nefarious one at that. Bush’s softness on immigration suggests very strongly that he would not be the sort of president who could be relied upon to implement the robust measures that actually will be required to get control over our lawless immigration practices. Bush is on the wrong side of these issues, and these issues matter a great deal to the Republican primary electorate.

Bush is on the wrong side of immigration and Common Core, and these issues matter a great deal to the Republican primary electorate.

Bush argues — and it is an excellent argument — that a governor’s record in office is a much better indication of what his performance is likely to be as president than does, say, a volume of Senate speeches made in an effectively consequence-free environment. That is a very compelling case for rallying behind Rick Perry, which the Republican electorate does not seem much inclined to do, or to fall in with Scott Walker or Bobby Jindal.

If we are looking for a compelling new policy idea, Bush is not our man. (It isn’t clear who is.) If we are looking to radically change the posture of the Republican party, then we might be inclined toward Senator Rand Paul; but the Republican primary electorate is, at the moment, zombie-walking in the opposite direction of Senator Paul’s libertarianism, as a coalition of frustrated immigration reformers (hurray!), anti-trade autarkists (boo!), and a small-but-larger-than-you’d-think group of very vocal white nationalists (egad!) of the Le Pen school express their opposition to insufficiently conservative Republican coastal elites by throwing in with a New York City real-estate heir and lifelong progressive whose main political activity thus far in his seven decades has been nurturing the careers of Chuck Schumer and a certain Mrs. C.

#related#If the best we can say for Bush is that the people who dislike him most intensely exhibit a worrisome compound of rage and stupidity, that’s not much of an endorsement, either.

Jeb Bush was a good governor in a different era. In this era, he is a good man with his heart in the right place even when his head isn’t, an unquestionably decent gentleman and an ornament to the Republican party with no obvious reason to be its presidential nominee, much less president of these United States.

— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent and the author of The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome.



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