Of course, in the wake of a devastating defeat, people often say they want a fresh new face the next time around. And then, somehow, an old face wins the race. The Republican Party has certainly earned its reputation for nominating the guy who finished second the last time.
"That didn't work out well with John McCain and it didn't work out well with Mitt Romney," said Katon Dawson, another former South Carolina GOP chief. "Just because it's your turn doesn't mean you're the best nominee." For his part, Dawson said he would "never write off Jeb Bush" but also sees clear opportunities for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other Republican newcomers.
The assumption among many GOP insiders is that Bush would enjoy a huge head start with big-money donors and Republican establishment types. And even though the family name is badly tainted for many Americans, Bush supporters could make a pretty compelling argument on his behalf: In the three decades since 1984, the only Republicans to be elected president have been named Bush.
That might win over hesitant GOP voters whose above-all-else priority will be victory. "The attitude after his brother left office was 'No more Bushes, no more Bushes,'" said Clemson University political scientist David Woodard. "Well, I think they're open to Bushes now. They're waiting for a savior. They're looking for anybody who can win."
Of course, for any of this to happen, Jeb Bush has to actually run for president. That's not a given; insiders describe his current state of mind as "thinking about thinking about it." (By the way, they scoff at publicity given to Bush's attendance of a reunion of some of his old staff in Washington recently; it was long-planned and had nothing to do with anything presidential.) Still, any Republican contemplating a run has to consider the Bush factor.
With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democrats had a backward vs. forward fight in 2008. After an epic struggle, they chose forward. Another Bush run for president could set off a similarly desperate fight inside the Republican Party.