Opinion

Don't run for president, Jeb

The party and the country need different blood

Jeb Bush looks like he's in.

That's the real import of a well-reported Politico article on Mitt Romney considering another presidential run in 2016. The case for Jeb goes something like this: The GOP needs a nominee that can unite the party's wings, and credibly run to the middle. He was a successful economic manager and cheerleader for Florida, as governor. And Jeb Bush has always been the most polished of the Bush clan: the most accomplished policy-thinker, and the best campaigner.

This is not nearly enough.

By the time 2016 rolls around, it will have been eight years since the previous Bush presided over an economic disaster. The economy may have mostly recovered, but it is drastically more unequal. What is Bush's cheerleading going to do for that? Does anyone think the GOP needs another captain of private equity to be its leader? And as loathsome and un-American as it may seem to hold someone's family name against him, this point needs to be emphasized: the GOP and the country don't need another Bush.

Although recent years have made me appreciate the creative realism of George H.W. Bush's foreign policy, Jeb Bush seems to be taking after his moralizing and confrontational brother, rather than his more restrained, consensus-building father. A recent speech in Miami revealed that Bush accepts the "we're-rubber, you're-glue" moral calculus of the most hawkish voices. When America kills foreigners, the foreigners are to blame. But when Russia invades Ukraine, or Syria disintegrates into civil war, that's America's fault for not doing something. This is stupid and dangerous.

The George H. W. Bush style of domestic policy that both his sons inherited is one of giving liberal programs half the funding and authority liberals want, but dolloping on so much conservative-branded "accountability" that it can be sold to the right. Poppy pushed "standards-based reform." W. did No Child Left Behind. And Jeb is the leading GOP advocate for what's become of Common Core. Whatever the merits, being identified so closely with a Bill-Gates subsidized education scheme hated from the right wing to Louis C.K. will prove costly.

Nominating Jeb Bush is an implied admission that the GOP cannot put together a post-Reagan presidential coalition without this one family. It would mean advertising that the party that just put together an impressive, across-the-board electoral comeback in 2014, and that has performed unusually well in gubernatorial races several cycles running, is bereft of talent and must rely on an older brand — one that people tired of twice. Republicans should reject these assumptions about their party, no matter how desperate eight years out of the White House has made them.

The last few years have been ones of experimentation for the party. There is the libertarian-inflected Rand Paul; there are Chris Christies and Scott Walkers who promise dramatic confrontations with public bureaucracy. There is the family-friendly wonkery of Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. If people want to try Bushism again, they should at least have the decency to demand that Marco Rubio's face be stretched over that political zombie's head.

Just by running, Jeb Bush will initiate a peculiarly intense argument about the propriety of political dynasties, which will distract from any kind of ordinary primary campaign about the direction of his party and nation. I've settled the issue in my own mind. The American republic abided two Adamses. But with the Bushes, it's time to say enough: third time's a harm.

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