Dating Trump and Marrying Bush

There’s a new Reuters-Ipsos poll out today showing a statistical tie between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush:

GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump are locked in a virtual tie for the 2016 Republican nomination, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll released Saturday.

It found that 16.1 percent of self-identified Republicans back Bush, the former governor of Florida. Trump, a New York business mogul, chases Bush’s lead with 15.8 percent support. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came in third 9.5 percent of possible voters’ backing.

The GOP race already has an eerily familiar feeling. Republican primaries are increasingly showing a pattern of base discontent with the leading candidate and flirtations with insurgent campaigns, only to fall in line behind the establishment. In 2012 Republicans went through a sequential series of insurgent frontrunners before settling on Mitt Romney.

This year feels similar. Jeb Bush will likely be the boring dependable man that GOP voters ultimately marry, but they’re likely to date a number of more exciting alternatives first. Trump is only the latest and most exciting, but he probably won’t be the last.

That itself is an interesting window into the Republican psyche. Realistically, Jeb Bush isn’t exactly a “safe” candidate. The Bush brand is almost irredeemably marred by his brother’s disastrous stint in the Oval Office, Jeb himself hasn’t actually held public office in many years, and his record on the campaign trail hasn’t exactly been gaffe free. Far from it: in saying that Americans need to work longer hours, Bush may already have had his “47 percent” or “I like being able to fire people” moment.

Donald Trump is certainly more exciting and more volatile. Rand Paul would be another interesting choice; Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina would be symbolic. But at least in theory, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker would be more dependable traditional choices than Jeb Bush. But they still lag far behind, with Scott Walker in particular suffering from concerns that he might not be anti-immigrant enough.

There is a large contingent of Republican voters who are adamantly unrepentant about the Bush record, who want aggressively corporate-friendly deregulatory policy and aggressively belligerent foreign policy, but with a somewhat kinder veneer on immigration and some social issues. Others want a more hardline, even less moral candidate. But as in 2012, they’ll ultimately likely fall in line behind yet another Bush.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.