The Associated Press

Jeb Bush's Inescapable Dynasty Problem

The former Florida governor would have dynasty problems in both the general election and the primaries.

The Associated Press

What's in a name?

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I was going to weigh in again on the Jeb Bush 2016 buzz (this time driven by a weekend confab at the George H.W. Bush presidential library celebrating the 41st president) and the problems that the former Florida governor would face if he runs, but the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore went and did it for me.

Specifically, Kilgore addresses the various facets of the dynasty problem Jeb Bush would face if he tries to become the third Bush in a quarter century to bear the GOP presidential standard. First there’s the Clinton defense – if the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, the argument goes, “that takes the issue away,” as GOP operative Ron Kaufman told the New York Times. “It’s pretty hard to say, ‘Oh, another Bush’ when you’ve got another Clinton,’” Kaufman said.

[Check out editorial cartoons about the GOP.]

This is the fallacy of dynastic relativism: that all putative political dynasties are qualitatively the same. But they’re not. As Kilgore writes:

The most obvious problem with this argument is that it’s not necessarily the idea of dynasties that’s the problem for Jebbie; it’s how specific dynasties are regarded. The most recent Bush presidency is not as highly regarded as the most recent Clinton presidency, and its negative features are a lot more vividly remembered because they were more recent.


People – even Republicans! – remember the Clinton years much more fondly than the Bush years. That’s why Bill Clinton scored a 71 percent approval rating in a Fox News poll from last April (the most recent one I could find) and generally scores in the mid-to-upper 60s in such surveys. He left his successor with peace and prosperity (and a budget surplus) and people tend to view these things favorably, especially since that successor then left office with no part of that hat trick remaining.

Incredibly, Bush 43 is enjoying some sort of post-presidential popularity renaissance that has nearly half of Americans (49 percent) approving of him in the most recent polls (which are, again, from last year). But Bush's climb back to public opinion mediocrity doesn't diminish the ex-president gap between the two parties. Recall that George W. was nowhere to be seen at the last GOP convention while Bill Clinton gave the best speech of the year at the Democratic confab, and then compare how much each of them is welcome on the 2014 campaign trail. It's why Clinton remains an important voice in Democratic politics while Bush has been reduced to the status of novelty painter. And it’s why a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found 48 percent of Americans “definitely would not” consider voting for Jeb Bush in 2016.

[See political cartoons about President Obama.]

But even putting aside the relative popularity of the most recent Presidents Bush and Clinton, there’s another reason why Bush dynasticism would be more wearing than the Clinton version and that’s volume. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic standard-bearer in two years, it would be the third time in the last seven presidential elections that a Clinton has led the Democratic Party; if Jeb Bush is nominated, it would mark the fifth time in the last eight presidential elections that the GOP has tapped a Bush and the seventh time in 10 that one has been on the ticket.

And, as Kilgore points out, there’s an arguably more important aspect to the Bush dynasty problem: There’s no guarantee he gets the nomination.

Lest we forget, Poppy’s support for a tax increase after pledging not to consider one was for an entire generation of conservatives an almost biblical lesson of the baleful consequences of compromise on this subject, instantly dashing Bush 41’s years of obsequious efforts to make himself acceptable to the Right. W. rebuilt that trust with conservatives, only to squander it via a series of heresies that have become more egregious over time: No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, runaway federal spending, the incompetent occupation of Iraq, and then TARP.


Remember that movement conservatives don’t like the Bushes; they always hated the elder and they fell out of love with the younger by the time his eight years were up. For the tea party right, the two Presidents Bush are the very face of the traitorous GOP establishment against which they constantly inveigh. And no, the prospect of Democrats nominating Hillary Clinton won’t ameliorate Bush’s dynasty problem with the movement right either.

[See political cartoons about the tea party.]

In fact, a Jeb Bush presidential run would become the ultimate embodiment of the tea party versus establishment civil war currently being fought out on the right (under the present auspices, let’s remember, of Bush-verse uber operative Karl Rove).

In other words, the admonition I saw on Facebook a few weeks back has as much currency with the hard right as it does with the left: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, vote for Jeb Bush and you’re just an idiot.