Dana Milbank: Will 2016 presidential race be a rerun?

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Column: Jeb could ruin Hillary’s political run.

Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee, speaks during the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting aboard the USS Midway Museum Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, in San Diego.

Mitt Romney begins the 2016 Republican presidential primary campaign with significant advantages over Jeb Bush, his chief rival for GOP establishment support, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.Jeb Bush’s entry into the 2016 presidential race sent ripples throughout the party, forcing Mitt Romney to indicate interest in running, spurring Mike Huckabee to leave Fox News, prompting Wisconsin Gov. More than half (52%) of all Republicans still maintain a positive view of the party’s 2012 nominee, compared to just 37% who said the same about Mr.

Not because Mitt Romney is likely to become the Republican nominee in 2016, but rather because he’ll be competing for the same mainstream primary voters and the same big money that Jeb Bush is chasing. But within a few hours on Friday, the likely candidates previewed a 2016 campaign that appears headed to a debate over who is best able to boost the paychecks of every day Americans. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) “Romney Recycled” was the headline atop a Wall Street Journal editorial last week lamenting Mitt Romney’s intimations that he will make a third run at the presidency in 2016. Among potential GOP candidates he’s currently the only one who could beat her in Florida — and it’s practically impossible to win the White House without winning Florida. With Romney’s entrance into the race, Bush has some space and time to raise funds, build out an organization and reach out to GOP office holders in search of support.

Hillary is sharp enough to know that Jeb got to be governor — and was easily re-elected — by drawing thousands of crossover votes from Florida Democrats. If the field develops the way it appears to be, this will be my fourth Clinton campaign, fourth Bush campaign, third Romney campaign, third Paul campaign, second Huckabee campaign and second Santorum campaign. But with Romney’s potential entry and the emergence of a group of current governors as new stars of the party, there is no doubt Bush will have to fight for the nomination. It would be ideal for her if the Republicans nominated a tea party hothead, thus alienating millions of American voters except for the cranky old white people who listen to Rush Limbaugh.

That is a good thing for his prospects, for unlike Hillary Clinton who will be coasting on her identity with no real rationale for the presidency and no real competition, Bush will need to show his mettle. The likely slate of candidates will include the son of a governor and presidential candidate, the son of a congressman and presidential candidate, the wife of a president, and the brother of a president, son of a president and grandson of a senator. Political insiders, Florida residents and media and many in the national media know he is a different sort of politician in many ways from his father and brother. (Jeb is “a curious study in contrast [with George W. Bush] — in temperament, in style, in the paths they have chosen in life, in the way they think and communicate and lead.”) So far, he is disarming donors when asked about the Bush “problem” with questions of his own: Do you have brothers or sisters? In the absence of ideas and popular passion — the sort of spirit that briefly captured the nation’s imagination in 2008 — winning becomes about name recognition and celebrity.

Still, anything can happen in the primaries, especially since these knuckleheads insist on starting in Iowa, which demographically resembles Finland more than it does the United States. It is a plain spoken way of making his case, and an indirect request for fairness. (Would you want to be judged by what your siblings did?) That message has to now expand to a wider audience in speeches, in a more complete announcement video and through surrogates. That is why, if a Clinton or a Bush wins in 2016 and is re-elected in 2020, a member of one of those two families will have been president for 28 of 36 years since 1989. You had counted on locking up the huge Hispanic vote, yet here’s a Republican who speaks fluent Spanish and openly favors a more compassionate immigration policy than his party espouses.

Marco Rubio and other possible GOP candidates are still whining about same-sex marriages, Jeb has wisely thrown in the towel and says it’s time to respect all sides of the debate, wishing the best for the couples now marrying. Dynastic politics is nothing new in this ostensibly meritocratic land, going back to John Quincy Adams and continuing through the Roosevelts and Tafts and Kennedys. A 2009 academic study found that, since the beginning of the republic, 8.7 percent of members of Congress had a relative who previously served in the body.

With a specific agenda to talk about, he can also shift the conversations from “Is Jeb just like his brother?” to “What’s Jeb offering?” Ed Gillespie’s Senate run in Virginia is a model for running an issues based, spirited campaign in which a guy who could easily have been painted as just a lobbyist or adviser to Bush 43 was able to connect with middle- and working-class voters. The percentage has declined over time, but a 2010 article in Legislative Studies Quarterly found that kin of officeholders continue to have large “brand name advantages” allowing them to raise more money and achieve more success with less experience. On education, Jeb supports the Common Core curriculum in defiance of the GOP’s right wing, eliminating another potential weapon from Hillary’s debate arsenal. In explaining his record on tax cuts, tort reform, education and a host of other topics, and by spelling out what ideas he has for the country, voters can come to their own conclusions. (“Hey, this guy is pretty conservative after all.”) As for clarifying issues, no candidate likes to dignify misinformation by repeating it but in this case it behooves Bush to point to his record, speeches and book and define for himself his stance on immigration (only legalization, no path to citizenship, voter ID, tough border security, substituting skills for extended family connections for legal immigration, etc.) At least on immigration, he has the opportunity to define himself as a 21st century candidate well aware of the demands of the global economy and let Romney (“self-deport”) play the role of economic Luddite.

If you are her, you’re left hoping with all your soul that Romney muddies the center of the Republican Party, and saps prime attention and heavy money away from Jeb. Likewise on Common Core, Bush needs to explain why standards matter, how Common Core got started (a pact among governors) and put himself foursquare against federal manipulation and intrusion. (There is a bill from Sen. Even better, if you’re Hillary you are hoping that Jeb loses his spine, backpedals from these semi-reasonable positions and soon starts sounding like all his rivals. Being in second place in some polls lets him be the “Avis” (we try harder) candidate, a better role for him than Clinton has as the inevitable and uncontested heir to the nomination.

Candidates who aren’t themselves eventually get into trouble, as Romney did in 2008 coming out as a fire-breathing conservative and Paul has done in insisting his foreign policy is Reagan-esque when it is more Kucinich-esque. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on immigration and Paul on the Federal Reserve, that should be of no concern. (Is Romney going to threaten a trade war with China as he did last time?) Romney will talk his way right out of the establishment circles that are his main source of support if he goes down that road. Their presence in the race virtually guarantees we’ll be revisiting Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky, the Iraq War and torture, Rafalca the dancing dressage horse and poor Seamus strapped to a car roof, Huckabee’s guitar and waistline, and Santorum’s sweaters.

Bush family matriarch Barbara Bush said last year, before her son Jeb began to make noises about a run: “If we can’t find more than two or three families to run for higher office, that’s silly. …

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