It’s less than two years before the 2016 presidential primaries, and the Republicans are in real trouble.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a month and a half ago the clear frontrunner for the presidential nomination, has fallen on his sword with the Fort Lee traffic-blocking scandal. Even if nobody can show that he knew about the plan to punish that city’s Democratic, non-endorsing mayor, he will be left with responsibility for the actions of his subordinates and the climate of his administration, both ugly. People don’t tolerate bullies these days, and the time of popular autocrats, such as Chicago’s old-time mayor Richard J. Daley, has long past. Accordingly, on sportsbook.com, the site I use to determine the true chances for presidential candidates (since as they take bets on their projections, they cannot afford to be partisan), odds on Christie have worsened from 6.5 to 1 against on January 10th to 12 to 1 yesterday. Strangely, Christie is still listed as more likely than anyone else to be nominated, though tied with Florida senator Marco Rubio. Over the 40 days, much of Christie’s gain has been absorbed by the overall favorite, Democrat Hillary Clinton, up to two-to-one against from 2.25.
Jeb Bush, former Republican governor of Florida, stayed the same at 15 to 1. His chances did not improve, probably due to his mother, Barbara Bush, saying in a January 20th-airing C-SPAN interview that he shouldn’t run in 2016. Her thinking was that two from one dynastic family, her husband George H. W. and her oldest son George W., were enough. But would that be best for the country?
During my 23 years in Florida, there were only two governors I liked, Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, and Jeb Bush. One or the other had the office for nearly 16 of those years, and they had something critical in common – they did nothing destructive. Chiles, with a reputation as a media darling, wanted a state income tax, so he arranged for a balloon to be floated in the Orlando Sentinel. The query took the form of a question readers were asked to respond yes or no to; it was, approximately, “If Florida sales tax were reduced from 6% to 4%, and a small state income tax were introduced, the combination meaning almost everyone with incomes under $60,000 would come out ahead, would you support it?” The vote could have been close, but it wasn’t –an amazing 97% said no. After that, we heard nothing more about Chiles’s income tax effort. Similarly, on his second day in office, Bush put an end to a statewide high-speed rail project, accurately considered to be a boondoggle by most Florida residents, and through his two terms did little to impede the great economic growth, high prosperity, and sub-4% unemployment rates the state then enjoyed. Having the discipline to do nothing when nothing is called for can be hard for politicians, who want so badly to make their marks, but it’s a sign of true leadership.
So, in the absence of Bush, what can Republicans do for 2016? Though many like and almost all accept the austere preferences of the Tea Party, their leadership has to know that nobody who wants to crush food stamps, wants to deny employment benefits to people who have been looking for months and months, and calls people such as my late Republican-voting, 45-year-working father-in-law “moochers” for not refusing their Social Security benefits, will be elected. They need someone moderate, who can at least see both sides. Rubio may or may not qualify. Bush’s criticism of the most conservative half or so of Republicans would fit right in, as wouldn’t the attitudes of the Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz, the two others in his party given the highest chances.
What about the Democrats? Our experience we have had and project to have with President Obama on jobs says one thing: We do not want a generic, party-beholden Democrat in 2016. That means Hillary. As for the rest of that party’s field, it is telling that the only others with odds shorter than 50-to-1 are Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, both with more baggage than O’Hare and little crossover appeal.
That brings us back to Jeb Bush.
Unlike most of the 2012 Republican field, he is sane, sober, non-precipitate, and grounded in reality, which is why he is often described as “the only adult in the room.” With a Phi Beta Kappa, he has also been called “the smart one” in his family, even more than his Yale-educated father. Along with his degree in Latin American affairs, he has a Mexican wife and speaks Spanish fluently, which, given the growth of the country’s Hispanic population, are fine credentials. He would bring a virtual assurance of winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes. Befitting the title of a recent Atlantic article, “Jeb Bush, Republican Savior in 2016?,” he is, or will soon be, the most sought-after non-running presidential candidate since Colin Powell.
So what could he do about jobs? His proven ability to take a moderate course, even when irritating what most would call his political base, tells us enough. He could extend unemployment benefits and strengthen food stamps, while rejecting minimum wage increases, assaulting government waste better than any Democrat would dare, and, if turned down by Obama, approving the Keystone XL pipeline. He could start a federal jobs program, convincing fellow Republicans that the infrastructure work America badly needs is not optional and working with Democrats to get approval of the labor paying much less than union scales. He could start a bipartisan commission to research and evaluate guaranteed income, charges and payments for Internet activities, and other radical ideas that must be considered. He could use the strength of his family and Spanish-language connections to achieve more consensuses than our current president has been disposed to do.
Could Jeb Bush accomplish all this? I doubt it, but his chances seem better than anyone else’s. It is much easier to imagine him, for example, pushing for the next WPA than it is to think of Hillary Clinton saying we can’t afford a higher minimum wage. Politics, is after all, largely about hope, and, from where I am sitting, he can provide the most.
Jeb, sometimes your mother doesn’t know best. We need you.