Jeb Bush is a successful, conservative, multi-term governor of a major swing state. He speaks fluent Spanish, and is positioning himself as a forward-looking reformer. He's raising staggering sums of money, a show of force that helped convince Republicans' 2012 nominee to walk away from the 2016 fray. He's also aggressively courting the media, making himself accessible and available -- very much unlike Democrats' insular presumptive nominee, whose campaign strategy may entail skipping her party's primary debates. Tabulate all of those factors in a vacuum, and one might safely conclude that a clear, early GOP frontrunner is emerging. Not so fast. The Republican race is "wide open" in crucial early primary states (as it should be at this stage) with Jeb Bush pulling respectable, but not eye-popping numbers. That picture might change once Team Jeb starts deploying all the cash they're stockpiling, but Governor Bush's standing among the Republican electorate hardly fosters an air of invincibility.
Perhaps the biggest reason why GOP voters aren't as excited about Jeb as the donor class seems to be -- setting aside policy vulnerabilities on immigration and Common Core -- is the baggage associated with his last name. President George H.W. Bush, Jeb's dad, was defeated after one term, and President George W. Bush, Jeb's older brother, left office with terrible approval ratings. Both former presidents have since rehabilitated their images, but the family's political reputation isn't exactly rock solid. And even if it were, a substantial percentage of Americans may just be fundamentally uncomfortable with the dynastic aftertaste of a Jeb Bush presidential run. The all-but-declared candidate sought to stake out an independent image during a hawkish foreign policy speech today, assuring voters that he's his "own man:"
Bush, who is proceeding to a presidential campaign of his own, delivered his first major foreign policy address in Chicago and took swipes at the "inconsistent and indecisive" leadership of President Obama and his administration. The former Florida governor acknowledged he is "lucky" to have a father and brother whose presidential legacies are rooted in the way they tackled wars and conflicts. He addressed the challenge of his last name head on in his remarks. "I love my brother, I love my dad, I actually love my mother, too," Bush said. "I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make. But I am my own man. My views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences."
As far as lovingly distancing oneself from one's immediate family members goes, this is a laudable and classy effort. But will it work? A new CNN poll suggests that voters are likely to see Bush as typifying the politics of the past, far more so than fellow Famous Surname candidate, Hillary Clinton:
Only Joe "McGrabby" Biden fares as poorly. A spate of new swing state Q-polls reflects a similar broad-based hesitancy about Bush on this score (although a majority still answers that his family history would make "no difference" to their voting decisions). Allahpundit is right that part of this phenomenon is explained by Democrats' built-in "progressive" image, as well as the fact that a lot of people just hear the word "Bush," and automatically think, "been there, done that" -- including more than a few conservatives. Perhaps Bush's enormous war chest can help mitigate these numbers a bit, but the GOP must know that if Jeb secures the nomination, the Democratic attack machine will spin 24/7 with messages about "turning back the clock to the failed Bush record." Writing at the Washington Examiner today, Philip Klein surmises that if the 2016 election comes down to a head-to-head rumble between two political brands -- "BUSH" and "CLINTON" -- Republicans aren't likely to compare favorably:
In the primaries, a new crop of Republican politicians can run change-themed campaigns. In a general election, nominating Bush would neutralize one of Hillary Clinton's biggest liabilities (the idea that she, too, is a figure from the past trying to ride her last name to power). Instead of having the clear contrast that would be possible if Republicans were to name a fresh candidate, the 2016 election would devolve into a proxy battle over whether Americans want to restore the Bush or Clinton presidencies. Whether the GOP likes it or not, that isn't a matchup that favors Republicans.
Klein also references an infographic circulating online that illustrates Jeb's current foreign policy orbit. The overlap from previous Bush administrations is almost universal. Brit Hume slaps down WaPo's loaded "eerily" characterization, but this image doesn't require much editorializing :
Expect to see a lot of this sort of thing with a Bush atop the Republican ticket next year. Some of the resulting fallout might be canceled out by Hillary Clinton's own complicated history (with fresh problems cropping up), but make no mistake: It'll present a hurdle. Jeb's two-pronged task, therefore, is persuading Republican voters that his "Bush Baggage" isn't insurmountable, while convincing the general electorate that today's "my own man" line is authentic. Heavy lifts, both -- but can Bush's overflowing coffers and political skills pull it off? Stay tuned.