After a brief hiatus from federal office, the infamous Bush name may soon be back: Jeb Bush, son of George H. W. Bush and brother to George W. Bush, announced last week that he has ‘decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President’. In light of Bush consistently topping polls of potential GOP candidates for the 2016 Presidential election, the announcement of an exploratory committee hardly comes as a surprise to most. Despite the rosy news coming from the ex-governor of Florida’s camp however, big questions linger over any potential campaign, not least will Bush be able to disentangle himself from the inextricable link he shares with the most despised departing President ever, his own brother.
On paper, Jeb Bush appears a perfect Republican nominee. A southern, popular ex-governor of a hotly contested, high value swing state; and, crucially, a Spanish speaker married to a Hispanic woman, a demographic Republican analysts conducting the 2012 election post-mortem declared was of the essence for any future Republican appeal. Throw into the mix, a moderate voting record on issues with mainstream crossover appeal such as education and immigration, and context aside, Hillary (should she run), may not be simply strolling to the White House after all.
Yet, context cannot be wholly sidestepped for Jeb Bush. Whether for better or worse, he is inextricably tied to the legacy of his brother, a legacy of strife and controversy. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the PATRIOT act, the deed of capsizing a surplus budget into a $400million deficit and last but not least the 2008 financial crisis, are all issues that have yet to escape partisan bickering of the US television news networks and all issues attributed to the Bush name.
But, for Jeb Bush, a case of ‘all publicity is good publicity’ may be evident. The legacy of his father and brother may well benefit Bush, elevating his name above those of contemporaries such as Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul, who linger in the doldrums of the second tier, known to party activists but sitting only on the periphery of mainstream attention; evidenced by a recent McClatchy News Service poll indicating Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush as favoured options for the GOP nomination in 2016, no doubt a manifestation of the mainstream attention captured by these candidates.
Yet, on the other side of the same coin, Bush will undoubtedly face tough questions regarding the legacy of his brother. Key to determining the success of Jeb’s campaign will be the extent to which he is able to distance himself from the poison legacy of George W. Bush, a legacy which thwarted the McCain campaign of 2008. Commentators question just how short a memory the US public have: will Bush’s 22% departing approval rating be forgotten? Is Obama unpopular enough for blame to be apportioned to him instead of the Bush administration? Have the sins of Bush been absolved as the construct of Obama’s ‘failed’ presidency takes prime spot on Fox and CNN?
Problematic, yet perhaps only a secondary issue, to the main event of ‘the Bush name’ kerfuffle, Jeb Bush’s long hiatus from the campaign trail may prove precarious should a run for candidacy materialise. 2016 would mark 14 years between his last run for office and his attempt to win the White House - the longest interval in recent (before Nixon at least) history. As campaign methods have evolved, strategists predict missing even one election cycle can damage a candidate’s next run for office, questions of ‘rustiness’ toted. Given how Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign was laden with gaffes and ‘flip flopping’, and the fact the word ‘Bushism’ exists for semantic and linguistic blunders, J. Bush will be scrutinised exponentially, the internet patiently waiting for any chance to meme-ify and devour him should the slightest error transpire.
Do the already evident issues of Bush’s campaign outweigh the benefits he could potentially bring to the 2016 Republican National Convention? Or does the transparent nature of such hazards allow for a potential Bush campaign to coordinate and spin said problems into opportunity, rather than marching into the hidden pitfalls of modern Presidential campaigns? Either way, Jeb Bush sits in a position of major power should his exploratory committee return positive results. Sitting atop polls, and enjoying attention positive in nature whilst potential GOP rivals scramble and scupper to attract attention of any kind, Bush is free to start amassing a 2015-16 war chest of donors, to direct national dialogue as he pleases and to partake in the infamous ‘invisible primary’ long before any potential competitors could justify Spring visits to Iowa and New Hampshire. Mr Bush will understand, however, due to his surname, that any move he makes will be shadowed by an elephant in the room and a monkey on his back.
By Adam Issacs