Would You Have Voted for Jeb Bush?
Hillary Clinton got her nomination this week at the Democratic National Convention, just as the powers-that-be ordained long ago. Despite facing a surprise threat from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton – with a little bit of help from the media, a little bit of help from her vast donor network, and a little bit of help from the DNC itself – took home the prize that was hers all along. What a wonderful day for democracy.
Please ignore the booing.
As fun as it has been to watch the chaos unfold in Philadelphia, we can’t help but see in the Democratic Party a narrowly-avoided alternate Republican universe. More than a year after Donald Trump descended an escalator and changed the course of American political history, it’s easy to forget that 2016 was not supposed to look anything like this. Armed with a $100-million war chest and a presidential birthright, Jeb Bush was every bit the uncrowned prince of the Republican Party last summer. Before either of them had actually announced their candidacies, voters were already grumbling about another Bush-Clinton election. Were there seriously no other American families worthy of the White House?
The story of the Republican primaries, of course, is in the history books. Trump accepted the GOP nomination last week in Cleveland, and there was scarcely a mention of the man who was supposed to face Hillary in November. Bush wasn’t just defeated by the New York billionaire; he was destroyed. Unlikely candidates like Marco Rubio and John Kasich were still vying for the nomination long after Jeb had been sent to the showers. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz…the list of people who were more relevant than Bush this year is a long one. Even former contenders like Mitt Romney garnered more headlines than the former Florida governor.
According to the pundits, Bush lost because he couldn’t adjust to the new reality of Trump – a pugilistic politician who changed the game. Trump was exciting; Bush was boring. And what good could $100 million do when the frontrunner was benefiting from more than $2 billion in free media? Add in the fact that there were 17 Republican candidates – making it difficult for anyone other than Trump to stand out – and you had yourself a race that Bush couldn’t win.
But that narrative isn’t quite accurate. The “low energy” nickname probably didn’t help Bush, but Trump was only one factor in his downfall. Bush was unpopular with conservatives already. Long before Trump jumped in the race, Bush was being criticized for his support for illegal immigration, his complimentary attitude towards Common Core, and his refusal to attack Obama and Hillary with the proper vehemence. Not only was he a legacy politician, he was the exact kind of Republican the party seemed to nominate every damn time – a moderate statesman who was more impressive to donors than voters. The ultimate establishment politician.
Now, the comparison between Hillary and Jeb begins to break down at this point. Jeb’s not a crook, after all. He didn’t jeopardize our national security. He didn’t try to rig the primaries with the help of the RNC. He actually has a resume worth celebrating.
Still, it’s interesting to consider what might have happened if Jeb had somehow managed to grab the nomination. If he had stayed in the race and made it past Trump, how many of the billionaire’s die-hard supporters would be ready to vote for him in November? Would you have joined the Jeb! cause for the purpose of beating Hillary, or would you have been willing to lose the election if it meant sending a message to the Republican Party?
While you’re thinking about it, spare some sympathy for all of those lost Sanders supporters. At least our dilemma is only theoretical…