The Jeb fantasy

    With Mitt Romney seemingly back on track after winning Michigan, the happiest guy in America is probably Jeb Bush. Maybe panicky Republicans will finally leave him alone.

    But don’t bet on that. One of the weirdest phenomenon of this quintessentially weird campaign is the ongoing Bush buzz, the belief in some party elite circles that the miseries of the pitiful Republican race can be erased if only Jeb Bush – brother of W. and son of H.W. – would get off the sidelines and ride to the rescue. The buzzmeisters were busy again yesterday. Andrew Card, longtime Bush family apparatchik Andrew Card told CBS News, “I have the perfect candidate, Jeb Bush.” And Republican strategist Ana Navarro told Politico, “Anybody who knows Jeb Bush and who’s heard Jeb Bush understands there’s a certain inspirational quality to him. He is smart, he is scary smart, and he has got a national network of supporters that he could turn on with the flip of a switch.” So goes the dream, at least among the many many many Republicans who are cool to Romney and repulsed by Rick Santorum. The dream persists even though Jeb Bush himself has repeatedly dumped buckets of water on the flickering flame, stomped the ashes, then buried the ashes at the bottom of the sea. Andy Card admitted on TV, “He’s not running.” End of story, already. Jeb is “scary smart,” remember? He knows the Bush brand is still toxic, just four years removed from one of the worst presidencies in history. He knows it’d be nuts to stage a late entry, missing most of the primaries, and ramp up for a race against a well-financed incumbent backed by a united Democratic party, at a time when the economic trend lines point upward. Better to bide one’s time and eye 2016.   But what’s most interesting about the Jeb Bush buzz are the delusions that go with it. Yet again, dreamers who pine for a savior seem incapable of recognizing that the savior’s halo would be dented the second he becomes an actual candidate.Bush compiled a conservative record during his two terms as governor of Florida, yes. But he is precisely the wrong kind of conservative for today’s intolerant and exclusionary Republican right. I can state this in very simple terms:Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish and whose spouse is a native of Mexico, fervently believes that reaching out to Hispanics is politically crucial for the GOP. By contrast, the Republican right is dominated by angry older white people who couldn’t give a fig about Hispanics.See the problem? If Bush ever dared dip a toe into this race at the eleventh hour, he would be savaged by base conservatives. He’s way too lefty for their tastes.He told a Dallas audience last Thursday: “I used to be a conservative and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective.”And he keeps saying things that expose his tolerance toward people of color. Last month, he assailed the anti-immigrant tone of those Republican debates (the endless secure-the-border rhetoric, Romney’s “self-deportation” talk), and he criticized the various crackdown efforts in Republican-run states – most recently, Alabama, where a new state law has prompted local utilities to shut off water service unless customers proved their citizenship. In 2010, he also attacked the papers-please Arizona law, lamenting that his own dark-hued children would look suspicious to the Arizona cops.Here’s Jeb last month: “Hispanic voters hear these debates and see the ramifications of the Alabama law, and other things like that, and get turned off….I happen to believe that if swing voters decide elections – swing voters in swing states are the most important voters in the presidential race – and if you send a signal that turns them off, that’s a bad thing. So from a practical political view, putting aside the policy, it makes no sense to me that we (Republicans) are sending these signals.”He’s even a major player in a group called the Hispanic Leadership Network, which believes that it might be a fine idea if the GOP reached out to the fastest growing ethnicity in America. Thirteen months ago, Bush warned a Republican audience that “without an active participation of the most dynamic, growing part of what will be the governing coalition in our country, without the active involvement of Hispanics, we will not be the governing philosophy of our country.”That’s the same argument that brother W. used to make, back in 2000 and 2004, before the Republican right and its talk-radio allies rose up and smacked down path-to-citizenship immigration reform. The tolerant GOP died in the Senate five years ago.No, there isn’t much room in the white people’s party for the Bush brothers’ brand of outreach. Those in the GOP who pine for a late entry would be well advised to recognize that he looks perfect only from afar, that there is no miracle fix for a party going off the deep end. Jeb Bush is the kind of Republican who gets booed by debate audiences in 2012. Nuff said. ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.