Responding to Ross’ post on the divided state of the GOP field, Isaac Chotiner asks whether Jeb Bush might have had a chance after all. There might have been a way for Bush to get the nomination this time, assuming that the rest of the party establishment rallied around him and made him the prohibitive favourite going into the fall. However, he would have been hampered by concerns that his name and association with the current President would mean general election disaster (and this is presumably a major reason why he stayed out this time), but more concretely he would have been at once the social conservatives’ favourite and the restrictionists’ target. He would been something like a more fiscally conservative Mike Huckabee with many of the same liabilities on immigration that Huckabee has. In short, the significant flaws that make each candidate in the current field appear to be an implausible nominee also extend even to Jeb Bush, and could conceivably have been made worse by his wife’s national background.
Bush might have been able to finesse this question and talk up border security, much as the current pro-immigration Republicans are trying to do, but it would have been a real problem for him. Also, his personal, direct intervention in the Schiavo case would have been a real liability in the general election. Not even all pro-lifers believed that was an appropriate or legal move, and much of the rest of the country was appalled. I think Bush could have subtly overcome the resistance to his name by stressing all the ways that he isn’t like his brother. He could have pointed to his competence in responding to hurricanes, for instance, or his fiscal responsibility, and tried to give the public confidence that his name need not imply similarly dreadful mismanagement and cronyism.