In 1998, George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas, and Jeb Bush, then the governor-elect of Florida, were asked a question after appearing together. Was Jeb — a calculating, reserved politician in comparison to a sibling with a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth and saying asinine things — the smart brother?
Most have accepted the charge. Search the Internet for the “smart Bush,” and the results will inevitably trickle toward Jeb. But could this declaration have simply been made because the American people were not familiar with him on a nationwide level?
Earlier this year, Jeb Bush announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. The original front-runner of the contest, he soon fell behind Donald Trump in the polls and is now languishing somewhere around fifth or sixth place. With the news that Bush has drastically slashed his campaign expenses — including letting people go, some are even speculating he is about to drop out.
Such an ignominious end would be fitting for the train wreck of a campaign Bush has run so far this year. Among his many gems are insinuating that African-Americans vote Democratic because they get “free stuff,” simply noting “stuff happens” in response to a mass shooting on a college campus and that the average American — who already works 47 hours a week — needs to work even more.
Surely, these dunderheaded remarks would spell doom for Bush in the midst of a general election campaign, but they don’t actually appear to be immediately hurting his campaign. Rather, his pragmatism — or, more aptly, perceived pragmatism — has disqualified him as a choice for far too many in the Republican electorate.
Bush once called undocumented immigration an “act of love,” and his plan for reform, while still draconian in comparison to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s proposals, is compassionate for his party. It’s far too compassionate for many in the party.
“If my wife were from Mexico, I think I would have a soft spot for people from Mexico,” Trump recently said about Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico.
Ignoring the glaring oversimplification and offensiveness of that assertion, a big chunk of those who will vote in a Republican primary believe in the sentiment. Even as big business and other prominent politicians clamor for Bush, the grassroots is simply too skeptical of him at this moment.
The other part of that reporter’s question back in 1998 was if W. was the “savvy one” alongside Jeb being the “smart” one. When seen in that context, the descriptors make sense. Whatever one’s opinion of our 43rd President, he unmistakably ran twice for the presidency and governed for eight years with the full backing of his party’s base. Jeb appears unable to replicate this.
Perhaps the Republican Party is just too different today. The Tea Party and all of its effects, after all, did not appear until W. was replaced by Barack Obama as President. But Jeb is running to the left of every other major contender; W., on the other hand, ran hard to the right of his main intra-party rival in 2000, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).
Chalk it up to savvies, smarts or some other quality. Whatever it is, Jeb Bush doesn’t have it. And come January 20, 2017, when the 45th president — whomever she may be — is sworn-in, Jeb will regret it.
Horwitz is a government senior from Houston.