Welcome to the first part of what’s sure to be a long-running, problem-solving, world-unifying series on this blog, the BRENNANATOR BREAKFAST BRIEFING!
I saw the Broadway play All The Way this past week, which chronicles Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act. Johnson (a masterful performance by Bryan Cranston, by the way, if you’re in or around New York City, go see it just for that), asks the audience, “You know how you win an election? By not fucking losing it!”
That line brought me back to the simpler days of 2007, when all of us figured the 2008 campaign would be a hard fought battle between Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, possibly with universally respected running mates like Fred Thompson and John Edwards at their respective sides.
The fun reminiscence of a time when nobody knew anything brought lead me to think about another election where nobody knows anything: 2016. As the media begins posing the inevitable questions – who will run? Who will win? Who will lose? — it becomes abundantly clear that they’re just trying to fill airtime. No, nobody knows what will happen two years from now, but the far right wing is all but certain of who won’t win: Jeb Bush. And if they gave him a chance, they’d probably turn out to be wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope they don’t nominate Jeb Bush. I was able to see him speak last month, and was horrified at his mix of a folksy, friendly demeanor and his mastery of issues like education, the economy and defense. He was charming, he was funny, he was in the middle of liberal Manhattan, so he clearly wasn’t afraid to talk to a potentially unfriendly audience, and he offered solutions beyond the current conservative solution to every problem, “cut it’s budget.”
But a quick perusal of websites like Breitbart and Townhall would leave the average reader convinced that Jeb Bush is as some sort of Manchurian Candidate for a left wing, commie pinko conspiracy. Yes, this staunch Pro-Life Republican, the governor who signed the “Stand Your Ground” law and who’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign promised to “get tough on welfare recipients”, who, lord knows, are the real bullies, is apparently not conservative enough. Why? Mainly because he doesn’t support throwing people who risk their lives to come to our country into prison. Stupid hippy.
I’m no policy expert, and even if I were, debating whether or not someone is “conservative” enough is a fool’s errand because today, “conservative enough” means “refusing to protect kids from guns and cutting security budget for our embassy in Benghazi.” But there are some other arguments from our friends on the far right as to why Jeb can’t win, none of which hold up to scruitiny.
The easiest argument is “Bush fatigue”, the theory that Jeb will lose based on his family name alone. The biggest debate the 2008 election solved, in my view, is the fact that superficial things like names of our candidates no longer matter. America elected a guy named “Barack Hussein Obama,” don’t tell me names are dis-qualifiers. And Jeb was just far enough away from his brother’s administration and policies that I don’t think the American people are going to blame him for their failures. Jeb can (and often does) present himself as his own man. Besides, Dubya was able to win election after his father lost the presidency. All Jeb’s brother lost was our national dignity.
They also claim there’s no hope in a candidate “chosen by the party elites” which also doesn’t really hold up. Jeb’s brother was the last candidate chosen by the party elites and things turned out pretty well for him. Reagan was also chosen by the party elites. They argue McCain and Romney were chosen by the party elites, but that’s not quite accurate. In 2008, McCain was running dead last, while the party elites chose between Romney and Giuliani. Both of those gentlemen proved so inept in campaigning that the elites came to McCain as a default option.
In 2012, the party elites famously scrambled to entice Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush to run so that they wouldn’t have to accept Mitt Romney. When those gentlemen rebuffed the party’s efforts, it’s true the party turned to Romney, but only because the alternatives ranged from the hilarious (Herman Cain) to the dangerous (Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum – take your pick, really.) So that’s not a fair argument either.
At last, the far right turns to the “moderates can’t win!” message. For the sake of argument, let’s say Jeb is a moderate. He’s not, but since the far right defines “moderate” as “anybody who’d stand up for a gay serviceman against a rabid Fox News audience”, let’s say he’s a moderate (though, to my knowledge, Jeb hasn’t done that.) Let’s say he’s a moderate – where’s your proof that moderates can’t get elected? They’ll point to two men as proof, but that underscores the problem the far right wing has with reality.
So in defense of reality, let’s stop pretending something right now, far right: John McCain and Mitt Romney didn’t lose their elections because they were “too moderate.” The lost their elections because they pretended to be “severely” conservative. They undermined their own authenticity with the voters.
John McCain, the maverick who, in 2000, bravely and rightly referred to the Reverend Jerry Falwell as an “agent of intolerance” stood next to Falwell and addressed Liberty University in 2006, haling Falwell in advance of the 2008 campaign. John McCain, who spent his entire 2008 presidential bid questioning Barack Obama’s readiness to be president picked Sarah Palin, who could not name a newspaper, as his running mate.
Mitt Romney was firmly in the “legal but rare” camp on abortion in 2007 but firmly in the “pro-life” camp in 2012. Mitt Romney was helping cities prepare for gay marriages in 2003 but opposed them in his 2012 campaign. McCain and Romney didn’t lose because they weren’t conservative enough. They lost because they pretended to be something their not, and voters see through that.
(By the way, don’t try playing the whole “oh, but Obama didn’t flip-flop on Marriage equality?” card here because, he may have flip-flopped, but he flip-flopped the smart way – he walked America through his decision, which created the air of authenticity. McCain and Romney just sort of hoped nobody would notice their records.)
Authenticity is the name of the game in Presidential elections. 1/4 of the “Reagan Democrats” who crossed party lines in the 1980 election to vote against President Carter identified themselves as Kennedy supporters in the 1980 primary. Why would these voters, who supported the Liberal Lion Ted Kennedy, decide to vote for Conservative Icon Ronald Reagan? Did they have sudden changes of heart? No, they looked at their options and went with the guy they may have disagreed with but who still seemed authentic and honest.
So I ask my friends on the right, do you really believe the nation wanted true Conservative in 2008 and 2012 so badly that when they didn’t find one on the Republican side, they decided to vote for Barack Obama? Do you really think Rick Santorum or Michelle Bachmann would have beaten Obama one-on-one?
I guess I’m just sick of the excuses out of the so-called party of personal responsibility. They say no Republican could have won in 2008. They say Obama bribed the voters with his promise of “stuff” in 2012. But it’s BS. You know who could have beaten Barack Obama in 2008? 2000 John McCain. A maverick Republican known for reaching across the aisle, who stood against Bush before anyone else? Hell yeah he could have.
And you know who could have beaten Barack Obama in 2012? Moderate Mitt Romney. A GOP governor with a record of fiscally responsible leadership? One who was open minded and fair on social issues? And one with a background in business to boot? You really think that guy would have struggled against a failing economy and rising unemployment?
I actually like McCain and Romney as human beings. The former is a true hero and the latter is a good man who didn’t need to go into public service but who wanted to (least he could do after ditching out on Vietnam). But politically I have no respect for them because they lost winnable elections due to political stupidity, not because of their stands on the issues. McCain and Romney lost their elections because they gave up on themselves.
Can Jeb Bush do the same? I don’t know. But I find it disheartening that my friends on the right are giving up on a sane, solid, honorable choice for the Presidency in favor of some mythical extreme right winger who will cut programs for the poor, provoke war with Russia and yet somehow not appear to be a crazy wingnut who considers the Civil Rights Act to be a violation of the Constitution. Because as much as authenticity is how elections are won, if you seem authentically crazy, you might have a problem, particularly if your opponent seems authentically competent, which is what’s brewing on the Democratic side of the aisle.
So to my friends on the right, I implore you – give Jeb a chance. Don’t let the fact that he doesn’t want to deport the folks who maintain your yards scare you. He’s a smart dude and he could win this thing.
But hey, don’t let me stop you from nominating Ted Cruz. Oh, I’d love that. I’d love to watch my friends who have spent the past few years mocking our President’s short senate tenure, question his nation of birth and blame him for his father’s beliefs rally behind a freshman senator who was born in Canada and whose father supported Fidel Castro. We on the left would have a ball with that one.