Jeb on Balance

For my weekly column over at TPMCafe, I tried to sit back and do a more balanced and considered take on Jeb Bush’s presidential prospects than my prejudices against the dude and his admirers had previously allowed. Plus it’s not like there’s a powerful CW to fight here anymore. As I noted in the column, it’s telling that the strongest articulation of the Case for Jeb yesterday came from the often-contrarian progressive Matt Yglesias. At the beginning of the last presidential cycle Jeb’s cheerleading squad was being led by the editor of National Review. Big difference.

But “balance” as I might, I still find Jeb’s rationale for candidacy weak, and perhaps fatally so. Thanks to the fights he’s picked with conservative activists, he needs a strong “electability” argument to convince movement conservative opinion-leaders to accept him as the nominee. Yet he’s actually one of the weakest general election candidates in the field, and there’s no obvious way for him to fix that without changing his last name.

The one issue I didn’t really get into was my continued puzzlement over the GOP donor class’s very strong support for Jeb. Maybe they see in him a firewall against permanent Republican alienation of Latinos. Perhaps they have powerful reactionary dynastic instincts, and aren’t sure they’ll live to see George P. Bush’s presidential campaign. I sometimes wonder if there’s a sort of Class Reunion thing going on attributable to the fond memories donor types have for George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, a moment of Machine efficiency for then-mid-career operatives and fundraisers who want to get back in the “W” column figuratively and literally.

In any event, perhaps big money can somehow make Jeb more lovable or at least keep him in the race hoping to inch past the kind of demolition derby on the Right that so benefited John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. But I would not bet on it until such time as Jeb shows us he’s been working on a new pitch.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.