Peter Beinart puts his finger on a key fact about the possibility of a Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush presidential contest in 2012 that makes it a delight for Democrats. It hit him after watching HRC speak last week:
[T]he most important takeaway from Hillary’s speech was that she’s aching to run against Jeb Bush. Clinton is not a great inspirational speaker. She’s at her best arguing a case. And the most effective part of her speech Friday was her case for why Clinton-administration policies—an expanded earned-income tax credit, a higher minimum wage, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program—helped poor and middle-class Americans get ahead, while the Bush administration policies that followed—tax breaks for the rich, unfunded wars—made their struggles harder.
If Republicans are smart, they’ll do everything in their power to avoid this debate. First, because they want to portray Hillary as running for Barack Obama’s third term, not her husband’s, since the Obama legacy is trickier to defend. Second, because the 2016 GOP nominee needs to embody change, which is hard to do when you’re depicted as George W. Bush. Third, because Bill Clinton is about 20 points more popular than Bush, and that’s highly unlikely to change over the next two years.
The one Republican presidential candidate who can’t avoid this debate is Jeb, a man who is known to the vast majority of Americans only as George W. Bush’s brother. Running him in 2016 is like nominating a close relative of Jefferson Davis as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 1872 or nominating a prominent member of Herbert Hoover’s cabinet to represent the GOP in 1948: It dredges up a past the party desperately needs to transcend.
This pretty obvious problem with Jebbie seems to elude all those supposedly electability-obsessed Republican donors clamoring for him to get into the 2016 race, which shows the Tea Folk are not the only delusional people in the GOP.
As it happens, I don’t think the desire of Republican elites to lead with their chins with a third Bush will matter. At present, the more immediate problem for Bush ’16 is that an awful lot of conservatives view the entire Bush family as insufficiently reliable ideologically, and Jeb hasn’t made it better by abrasively picking a losing fight with them over Common Core.
But if it does somehow get the nomination, Beinart’s right: Democrats would like nothing better than a debate between the 90s Versus the 00s. It’s just no contest.