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The GOP’s Bush Baggage

So it seems that Jeb Bush isn’t nearly as politically savvy as his admirers would have us think:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says a possible 2016 run for president would not be affected by his brother’s lingering unpopularity.

I don’t think there’s any Bush baggage at all [bold mine-DL],” Bush said on “Fox News Sunday” when confronted with a poll that showed almost a full majority of Americans have an unfavorable impression of former President George W. Bush.

What to make of this? This is a clear misreading of his brother’s political legacy. Of course, no one expects him to denounce or attack his brother, but minimizing the difficulties he would face as the third presidential candidate from the same dynasty just makes him seem clueless. Even if George W. Bush had been a merely mediocre, unremarkable president instead of a disastrous failure, it seems unlikely that the public would have much appetite for a third Bush presidency in less than thirty years. It isn’t entirely the fault of the dynasty, but since the Bushes started running the GOP the party has gone from routinely winning landslide victories to not being able to fight its way out of a wet paper bag. How stupid would the Stupid Party have to be to go back for a third helping of such brilliant political leadership?

It might seem unfair to punish Jeb Bush because of how his brother governed, but Jeb Bush never showed any signs publicly or privately that he disagreed with what his brother was doing. It’s not as if his preferred policies are meaningfully different from those his brother pursued. He isn’t likely to repudiate anything that his brother did. So it would be entirely appropriate to view a Jeb Bush candidacy as an attempt to revive the Bush era and to rehabilitate the Bushism that his brother promoted. Bushism was a huge liability for both of the last two Republican nominees, and it would become a bigger one if the next nominee actually bore the name. A Republican Party that allowed its nomination to go to another Bush so soon after the failures of the last decade would effectively be declaring its political bankruptcy as a national party. If Republicans don’t think that their opponents will keep using George W. Bush as a club with which they bludgeon the party in the next few elections, they forget how much they have relied on trying to paint every Democratic nominee as the next Carter. Bush is their Carter, and the longer it takes them to break with what Bush represented the longer their political woes will last.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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