You know the Republicans have a clear presidential front-runner when every liberal news source in the nation is trashing him. I'm talking about Jeb Bush.
Every day I look at the headlines:
- "Jeb Bush to Raise Social Security Age to 70"
- "Jeb Bush Smoked Marijuana and Was a Bully in High School ..."
- "Jeb Bush Still Refuses to Rule out Tax Hikes"
- "Jeb Bush: Many Illegal Immigrants Come out of an 'Act of Love'"
- "Is Jeb Bush 'Unelectable' Because He Gave Hillary Clinton an Award?"
- "Jeb Bush Marked 'Hispanic' on Fla. Voter Registration Form: NYT"
The list is inexhaustible with some headlines more inflammatory than these.
During the weekend I read a story in Slate -- hardly a liberal news source -- "Exit Stage Right: Welcome to the Race, Jeb, Now Drop Out." It contends the Bush campaign is so big and bold, Jeb will destroy other Republicans by conducting a scorched-earth campaign that will make it impossible for anybody wearing the red party label to win in 2016. What the story shows is, even some conservatives have their doubts about Jeb.
Imitation might be the highest form of flattery to most people, but not to a presidential candidate. Negative publicity -- that's the ticket. That's what tells you all you need to know at this point. Especially when it comes from the Fifth Estate.
I hope you won't deduce from this that either I or Sunshine State News is backing Jeb. Down the road, who knows? We've got probably nine more months before we know who Hillary Clinton's opponent in November is and I'd like to think I still have an open mind.
But there's no denying right now Jeb is the man to beat. Besides the newspaper-headline giveaway:
He has connections up the wazoo. Thanks to his family’s deep network of supporters and his long career in politics, he can reel in the best of the best in GOP strategists, consultants, organizers, whatever his campaign needs, wherever he chooses to use its resources.
He has an unmatched reach into Republican Donor World. Again, chalk it up to family connections and nearly 10 years out of office to prepare for this day.
He knows how to play the money game. Before he declared his candidacy -- as campaign financing law allows -- Jeb crisscrossed the country raising money for a super-PAC called Right to Rise. The PAC is believed to have raised $100 million that eventually will be spent helping him and attacking his enemies. Even Marco Rubio, with a list of well-heeled ultra-conservative supporters, can't come close to Right to Rise results.
“It’s an advantage. No question,” Fred Malek, a prominent GOP donor who chairs the Republican Governors Association’s finance committee, told Politico. “I think Bush will be able to raise three or four times as much as anyone else.”
Jeb is a Bush apart. Forget the family name issue. Certainly he loves his family and identifies with them, but ultimately Jeb is smarter than the whole Bush clan put together. He has none of George W.'s folksy, Texas ranch-hand charm or George H.W.'s New England aloofness. If voters see and hear enough of him, something else might trip him up, but it won't be the family name.
He sounds presidential. Whatever you say about Jeb -- and you might not like all his policies or you might remember cringingly, as I do, what a control freak he was in office -- he is one of the most creative, thoughtful, and disciplined minds in American politics. As governor, he wanted Florida to be a cut above. He dreamed big and worked hard to make it all happen. The Central Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was one of Jeb's key priorities as governor. Later, his attempt to wean Florida off dependency on a primarily real estate-ag-tourism-based economy and create a leading biotech network -- something that one day would eclipse North Carolina's Research Triangle -- was an ambitious feat few governors would have attempted.
No GOP presidential race has been successful without a Bush on the ticket since 1972. Strange, but true.
I won't deny it -- Jeb Bush's campaign is bigger and bolder and scarier than anyone else's in the race. But think about it, isn't that good for Republicans, not bad? Already a dozen candidates have declared for the presidential race on the GOP side and four more probably will soon. That's another clown train whistle-stopping its way through early primary states, just as it did four years ago. I'm not saying all on board are clowns, but certainly some need to look realistically at their support, check their campaign coffers, weigh their chances and decide fairly early if they can win. If Jeb's campaign is out there huffing and puffing, it's going to blow down some candidates' houses built on a wing and a prayer.
Seth Masket made the point in the latest issue of Washington Weekly: A Jeb "scorched-earth" campaign isn't going to give Republicans anything they can't handle, he said. "Even though the losing candidates and their supporters will be angry, they won’t be so angry that they’d be willing to hand the White House keys to Hillary Clinton."
Better we find out sooner than later who can hang with the Jeb Bush Machine.
Read Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith