The Jeb Bush boomlet

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WASHINGTON -- Inevitably, considering the absence of a clear Republican frontrunner for the 2016 presidential election, the name of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush of the family dynasty has been rushed to the fore. On his record in office and his soft-spoken personal appeal, he would seem a natural to go to the head of a list of only moderately impressive wannabes.

But the immediate question is: Do American voters, after a double dose of Bushes, want another one? The fact is that memories of the two George Bush presidencies now set few GOP hearts aflutter.

The first George, elected to what some Republicans thought would be the functional equivalent of a third Ronald Reagan term, was a disappointment. He came away as a rather kindly and quirky uncle given to feckless observations. His infamous pledge, "Read my lips, no new taxes," turned around and bit him when he reneged on it.

The first George for this and other reasons was denied a second term, but he went on to achieve some redemption, teaming up with the Democrat who beat him, Bill Clinton, as a humanitarian duo aiding victims of natural disaster.

The second George came into office under the cloud of the disputed electoral decision in Florida, awarded to him by the partisan vote of the Supreme Court. He temporarily emerged from it as a defiant leader in his response to the 911 terrorist attacks. But he then distinguished himself by illegally invading Iraq under the false premise that it had weapons of mass destruction posing an imminent threat.

He won a second term, narrowly, by continuing to ride the wave of wartime patriotism that resulted. Political allies effectively smeared his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, by questioning Kerry's combat service in Vietnam, which the second George had managed to avoid.

So what has all this to do with brother Jeb and his prospects for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and election to follow? The fair answer should be nothing at all. However, competitive politics being what it is, Democratic critics, and maybe even other GOP aspirants for the White House, are likely to argue that two Bushes were too much, or at least one too many.

Jeb Bush himself is saying he hasn't made up his mind one way or the other about running. The hesitancy may only be tactical. In terms of the man's performance in the Florida governor's chair and his likeable public demeanor since then, he seems better suited for the presidency than either his father or older brother was. He comes off in more as a moderate Republican in the old mold with no particular tie to the tea party faction, apparently just what practical strategists say the Grand Old Party needs now.

A Jeb Bush nomination, considering the expectation of Hillary Clinton's candidacy, could well result in a battle of the presidential dynasties. On the Democratic side, it could be a mixed blessing.

Would husband Bill be an asset as a champion campaigner or a burden, what with expected news media regurgitation of the Monica Lewinsky saga and his impeachment trial?

All this makes for delectable speculation beyond the fact that another Bush-Clinton confrontation would pit two major-party nominees of demonstrably strong qualifications for the presidency.

Considering what both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have achieved in high-level office, he as a governor and she as senator and secretary of state, the matchup might well be the sort that even political scientists and other academics would applaud.

Of course, the chances are that in both parties, these two prospective candidates would have to run a gauntlet of state presidential primaries and party caucuses, in which challenges to the concept of dynasty likely would be heatedly aired. Would Jeb be tasked with defending the Iraq war? Would Hillary have to "stand by her man" again over past discomfitures?

As Rex Harrison put it as a bitter Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady," imagining the downfall of Eliza Doolittle: "How simply frightful! How humiliating! How delightful!"

(Jules Witcover's latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.)

(c) 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

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Ken Ulman's giveback [Poll]

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