By Ken Feltman
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.
As President Obama’s poll numbers plunge and members of his own party begin to attack him, Republicans debating whether to run in 2012 are feeling more optimistic. Are things really that bullish for potential GOP candidates? Polls and focus groups confirm reasons for GOP enthusiasm. The most positive thing Democrats say is that it is too early to tell. Meantime, another man named Bush publicly denies interest in running even as he and his close friends and advisors ponder how to get him drafted to run late in the campaign, against a weakened incumbent.
You think that’s crazy? Who’s going to want another Bush? Beside, drafts just happen; no one can plan to be drafted. Or can they? Let’s sweep soundbites and spin out of the way and look at what we know right now.
The situation looks bad for Obama. Independent voters have deserted. Wavering Republican voters who supported Obama have returned to their party, with a vengeance. Is it really this bleak for Obama?
Not quite. Look beyond this November’s election. History tells us that any Republican will have a difficult path to the White House in 2012. Here’s why:
Will Obama run again?
First, beating any incumbent president is no easy task. If Obama seeks reelection, he will be formidable. Hold on, you say: What do I mean by if Obama runs? Think about it: Is Obama governing like a man who is planning another campaign? Only the most partisan Democrats think Obama’s heavy-handed governance will convince voters that they want more bludgeoning. Obama is governing like a man crazed with the worry that he has only a few more months to jam his agenda through Congress. He even talks about being a one-term president. The secretary of state has noticed.
If Obama does run, he could be opposed. A challenge from the left could end up making Obama seem more acceptable to centrist voters. But Hillary Clinton may run. She would run from the right. Recent actions by Clinton and those close to her (especially former President Clinton!) make clear that she is keeping her options open. The people who know the Democratic Party best believe that only a woman or a black or Hispanic man can be a credible challenger to Obama. They believe that Clinton would be tough to beat in the November election. In-the-know Republicans agree.
The Republicans face other inconvenient facts. Most campaign advisors – as opposed to “talking head” analysts who are all over television and talk radio – are nearly unanimous that the GOP will take back the House. The Senate is a toss up, trending Republican takeover. Good news for Republicans, you say? Not quite. If the Republicans take both Houses, Obama and Congressional Democrats will wiggle off the hook for many of the problems that occur between now and November of 2012. You think Obama spends a lot of time blaming former President Bush? If the GOP takes the House and the Senate, or even just the House, lots of Democratic fingers will be very busy pointing at Republicans.
The Tea Party problem
Should the GOP retake one or both houses, the Tea Party will have a more prominent place in news reports. Recently, a Tea Party leader spewed unadulterated racism. He was disowned by the national leadership, such as it is in the anarchistic Tea Party. The NAACP had goaded the Republican Party to discipline the bigots. The Tea Party did. The Republican Party remained silent. Silence seems to confirm an idea that is taking hold in the minds of centrists voters: The Republicans are “soft” on racism. That is a potent issue and the GOP is not addressing it effectively.
Some Tea Party candidates will get elected as Republicans and a few of them will continue to espouse unorthodox or out-of-date theories. Remember the trouble Rand Paul got into after winning the Republican senate primary in Kentucky? He cast doubt on the Civil Rights legislation that Americans have lived with since the 1960s.
Guess what? Now Paul is suggesting that he is not against civil rights as much as he is for property rights. He seems to read the Constitution as originally written, not as amended. Property rights were tempered in the 1960s because they were being used to exclude some citizens’ civil rights. Why debate that again?
Yet, they will debate. Those Tea Partiers will have a much more negative influence on the Republican Party if they are part of the majority in Congress. The media will play up every weird thing they say. Based on what they have been saying in their campaigns, they have some odd theories. The libertarian wing of the Tea Party movement is a small sliver of the whole Republican Party but it will have a supersized role in the headlines if the GOP leaders cannot corral their new colleagues.
Bush for president?
Today, all of the potential GOP candidates look good against Obama in 2012. Recent polls show virtually any Republican beating Obama. Not so fast: They will slip back if the GOP takes both the House and the Senate. As the mavericks from the angry fringe take their seats on the Republican side of the aisle and get in front of the TV cameras, the GOP nominee will be put on the defensive. Sarah Palin is buoyed by the Tea Party now but it may become an anchor later.
That means that some influential Republican leaders will try to get former Florida Governor Jeb Bush into the race. True, he keeps disavowing interest. Recently, he was quite clear in saying he is not a candidate. But people close to him say that he is willing, if he determines that he has a good chance. Despite the voters’ low regard for his older brother, Jeb Bush is highly thought of in Florida and throughout national GOP circles. He will do better than any other Republican among Hispanics. He speaks fluent Spanish (not the condescending Spanish of some other potential Republican nominees) and met his wife in Mexico, her home country. Columba Gallo Bush’s father was a migrant worker.
Florida would be safely in Bush’s hands. Other immigrant areas would not be so reflexively Democratic. That is why top tier fundraisers and GOP leaders want Jeb to run. State and local GOP leaders like him. Independents are disposed to give his candidacy a close look. Jeb Bush comes right from central casting.
Expect to hear his name mentioned more in the future as Republicans realize that you cannot beat an incumbent president – or Hillary Clinton – with just anybody, no matter how vulnerable Obama may seem today. Jeb Bush will be pressured to run for the good of the GOP. A year from now, pundits could be telling us that only Jeb Bush can win the White House for the Republicans. Best of all, Bush can take his time and wait till late in the game before giving in to the pressure to run.
If only Jeb’s last name were something other than Bush.