As Jeb Bush was a proxy for the GOP “establishment,” the demise of his campaign seemed to come as a surprise to many in the chattering classes. How could the son and the brother of two presidents be so badly beaten by a casino owner and two first-term U.S. senators?
The answer is simple: Both George H.W. and George W. left office unpopular and in bad economic times. The mainstream media had done its work well, pinning the economic and geopolitical situations at the time of their departures to the lapels of Jeb’s brother and his father before him.
As you may recall, 41—as the first Bush is known—faced a blistering revolt on his right from the proto-Tea Party movement led by Pat Buchanan, losing his re-election bid in a three-way race against insurgent Ross Perot and Bill Clinton in 1992. The GOP’s right wing never fully endorsed 41 as the rightful heir to Ronald Reagan.
Following the moral and ethical lapses of the first Clinton presidency, a return to the rather boring Bush family seemed appealing. Jeb’s brother—43, as the second is known—started rather well, passing No Child Left Behind (now vilified by the left and the right) and responding forcefully to the attack on the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, his second term was marked by missteps, from Hurricane Katrina to Abu Ghraib (a prison in Iraq, in case you forgot).
W. left office having overseen the bailout of Wall Street and what can most charitably be called a tenuous stalemate in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Election Day in 2008, nearly half of Americans felt 43 would go down in history as this nation’s worst president.
To many on the GOP right, Obama doubled down on the Bush 43 policy both domestically and overseas. The fiscal stimulus had its roots in the 2008 tax cut, the bailouts of GM and Chrysler, in the bailout of most of Wall Street. How could anyone have thought a GOP base that rejected the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus and the auto bailouts would monolithically back the brother of the man they felt initiated many of these policies?
The simple fact is, Republicans tend to be polite: They would like to remember fondly the man who said “no more new taxes” and then raised taxes. Most admire him personally if not philosophically. They prefer the righteously indignant 43 in the crater of the World Trade Center, metaphorically shaking his fist at Osama bin Laden, threatening retribution with Old Testament zeal. No Republican actually thinks 43 lied about WMDs or believes he and the neo-cons mantra of regime change purposefully destabilized the Middle East, giving us ISIS; unfortunately, if unintentionally, many in the GOP believe that has been the result and cannot be ignored.
Compounding these problems, the GOP takeover of the Senate and the House following the 2014 election cycle has resulted in almost no material policy change in Washington. The legislative leadership seems to point back to the “good old days of 43.” But social policy is still made by a nine-member court of elders while domestic policy is written by OMB and CMS. International policy is the province of the Pentagon, NSA and Foggy Bottom. There is no advice, there is no consent, because there is no need of it. The success of the Cruz and Trump message can be boiled down to one phrase: “Don’t just stand there … stop something.”
Some have sought a forward-looking conservative agenda of small government and personal responsibility as the road back to an energetic party, but like Ponce de Leon, they are still searching, Marco.
The ouster of House Speaker John Behner and the primary defeats of Eric Cantor and our own Dick Lugar did not register. The base of the party of Lincoln and Reagan will no longer endorse the policies of George W. Bush or his father. Jeb, this is not your father’s GOP—nor your brother’s.
The GOP simply and as politely as possible has said, no thank you.•
Roob, executive vice president at Keramida Environmental, has run Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Family and Social Service Administration. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.