GOP’s sad new rescue fantasy: George W. Bush presents Jeb Bush 2016!

Three generations of Bush relatives and hangers-on are “fired up” about taking back the White House. No one else is

By Joan Walsh

Published October 27, 2014 6:16PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Jason Reed)
(Reuters/Jason Reed)

As if to underscore the GOP’s long-term leadership deficit even as a midterm victory looms, the Bush family announced a new product launch over the weekend: Jeb Bush 2016.

“No question,” son Jeb Jr. told the New York Times, “people are getting fired up about it — donors and people who have been around the political process for a while, people he’s known in Tallahassee when he was governor. The family, we’re geared up either way.” His brother George P. Bush, running for Texas land commissioner, told ABC’s “This Week” that it’s “more than likely” his father will run. “If you had asked me a few years back, I would have said it was less likely,” he said.

So they’re “fired up,” huh?  Maybe they think if they appropriate Barack Obama’s old slogan, no one will notice they’re trying to make sure that three GOP presidents in a row will come from the same family. It’s as though Republicans have given up on generating new leadership democratically and are handing it down dynastically from now on.

The project’s cheerleader, according to the Times, is former President George W. Bush, the guy whose own White House victory essentially doomed Jeb’s dreams. Now W. is rallying the Bush forces, boasting about urging his younger brother to run, even while he jokes with Fox News, “I don’t think he liked it that his older brother was pushing him.” Older brother’s famous sadistic streak obviously endures.

The last time Jeb Bush rescue fantasies overtook the GOP, it was early in the 2012 primary season, and party donors were already able to foresee the drubbing they’d endure if either dull Mitt Romney or laughable right-wingers like Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich won the nomination. That time Joe Conason ran down all the reasons a Bush run was likely to be unsuccessful: Not just his uneven record as governor, but the unsavory associates who helped him amass a real estate fortune. Mother Jones took it further last month, with “23 Reasons Why Jeb Bush Should Think Twice About Running for President.”

Then there’s the problem of the tarnished legacies of his father and brother, which didn’t exactly leave Americans, even Republicans, clamoring for four more years.

But now, the New York Times reports, Bush boosters think “President Obama’s troubles, the internal divisions of the Republican Party, a newfound nostalgia for the first Bush presidency and a modest softening of views about the second have changed the dynamics enough to make plausible another Bush candidacy."

Like all Republicans, Jeb Bush has struggled with a gender gap in his support – the men in his family have been gung-ho about another White House run, while the woman resisted. Now, according to several reports, both mother Barbara and wife Columba have finally given their blessing to Jeb’s project.

So the family is united about the project now. But it’s not just the family, the Times reports. “The larger Bush clan” – three generations of donors, strategists, pollsters, advisers and “friends” – are even more anxious to return to the show. “They’re like horses in the stall waiting for the gate to break,” one family insider explained. “They’re all jumping up and down.”

You know who else is jumping up and down? The party’s right-wing base. Only they’re jumping up and down in anger. Bush’s support for Common Core and some kind of pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (he’s flip-flopped on that one but still has talked about the decision to come to this country as “an act of love,” not just a crime). Bush’s latest crime, according to the right, is saying in 2012 that he would accept a deficit-cutting deal that traded $1 in new tax revenue for $10 in spending cuts.

Jeb Bush fever may be tougher to treat than Ebola. It afflicts GOP leaders with some regularity. Just five months ago, the Washington Post told us party donors were begging Bush to run. But as I noted at the time, 50 percent of Americans the paper polled had just said they wouldn't vote for Bush under any circumstances. Still donors remain the power that matters when picking a Republican presidential nominee, and it sounds like Bush is now convincing himself the donors know what they're doing. If he doesn't run, they'll be back on the Romney 2016 juggernaut. This is a party that's out of ideas, and leaders.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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