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Politics & Policy

The End of Jeb?

If his last name had been Jones, maybe things would have been different for Jeb Bush. I didn’t think he should have run for president and I’m glad that he now has bowed out, for the sake of the GOP. But I do believe he might have been a good president, maybe even a very good one.

During the presidency of his brother, we conservatives used to joke that Republicans had nominated the wrong Bush in 2000 — and we’d speculate about how things might have been different (and better) if Jeb had won Florida’s gubernatorial race in 1994. Jeb always maintained that the loss improved him as a candidate in 1998, when he won, and probably a better governor when he finally assumed the office. That may be true. He was at any rate an excellent governor — one of the best in America. And later he was an excellent ex-governor, committed to expanding education freedom at a time when he could have been doing other things. Five years ago, I profiled him for National Review. Here’s how the piece started:

Last spring, it looked like the Oklahoma state legislature was going to reject a school-choice bill to provide vouchers for learning-disabled students. Earl Sears, a Republican, announced his opposition on May 19 — a bad blow, because Sears is a former principal and several of his GOP colleagues take their cues from him on education. Around 9:30 p.m. the next night, Sears’s phone rang. Jeb Bush was calling. “Excuse me, you mean the governor Jeb Bush of Florida?” asked Sears. The two men didn’t know each other and had not spoken previously, but they talked for 35 minutes. Bush urged Sears to support the bill, pointing out that an almost identical piece of legislation had become a successful law in Florida. “I tell you, he made an impact on me,” said Sears on the morning of May 21, when he described the conversation in a speech to fellow lawmakers. He switched his vote from no to yes. Hours later, the bill passed. “We couldn’t have done it without Sears,” says Brandon Dutcher of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank. “So it’s safe to say that we couldn’t have done it without Jeb Bush.”

Jeb Bush won’t be president. But I don’t think we’ve heard the last from him. In fact, I hope we haven’t.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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