Jeb Bush? “Frontrunner?” Really?


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© Jack Cashill - February 4, 2015

The Washington Post headlined a story this past weekend, “Jeb Bush has become the GOP front-runner for 2016 — so now what?”

So now what? So now it is time for the Washington Post to start talking to real Republicans in the wild, not the domesticated RINOs who dwell within the Beltway. Republican pundits might try the same.

A few months back, I spoke to an older, decidedly moderate group of Republicans in their native habitat, Missouri.

When someone asked who was my choice for the Republican nomination, I threw the question back to the woman asking it. She volunteered, “Jeb Bush.”

Too remote from DC to know how they were supposed to think, the members of this usually very civil audience booed.

If not Jeb Bush, then who? According to a USA headline just a month ago, “ Jeb Bush and Chris Christie atop GOP presidential poll.”

Had I volunteered Chris Christie’s name to my Missouri audience members, they would not have booed. They would have laughed.

To them, Chris Christie was the fat guy last seen strolling arm and arm with Barack Obama down a New Jersey boardwalk, throwing the 2012 election to Obama in the process.

Football fans remember the New Jersey governor as the slightly less fat guy exchanging awkward high fives with Cowboy owner Jerry Johnson after the Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles, to win their division.

In South Jersey, where the Eagles reign, that move was a head scratcher. It would have been like watching Jimmy Carter cheer for the Russians during “The Miracle on Ice.”

The results of a Drudge poll this week confirm the intuition of my Missouri seniors. Out of more than 400,000 votes cast, Jeb Bush had less than 4 percent of the vote. Chris Christie had one percent.

The real frontrunner, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, had 46 percent. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and Sarah Palin all pulled more votes than Bush.

“Republicans have a tradition of picking an anointed one early,” claims the Post. Please! This is just empty, recycled media blather.

Republican money, which is the real “establishment,” flows towards the most likely Republican winner, and it does not always flow in one direction.

In the past half century, the presumed anointed one has only faced serious conservative opposition on two occasions, and on both occasions—1964 and 1980—the conservative prevailed, Goldwater in 1964 and Reagan in 1980.

In the 2016 cycle, there are at lest three contenders more substantial than any conservative candidate since Ronald Reagan. Any one of them would clobber Bush or Christie one-on-one.

Looking at the Drudge poll, Republican money men must know this. They did not get to be rich by being stupid.

Reagan trumped the establishment in 1980 but not without his own fair share of moneyed backers. By 1984, those backers had become the establishment.

In 1988 smart money went to George H. W. Bush because he was running largely unchallenged on Reagan’s conservative coattails.

In 1996 Kansas Senator Bob Dole faced opposition from two candidates arguably more conservative than he, but neither Pat Buchanan or Steve Forbes was nearly as substantial or electable as Cruz, Paul, and Walker are this year.

Establishment money backed Dole in 1996. There is no logic for that money to flow to Bush or Christie in 2016.

Besides, whether he believed what he was saying or not, Dole ran as a conservative. He had been calling himself one all his career. For Nelson Rockefeller, even Dwight Eisenhower, the word “conservative” was often preceded by a profanity.

In 2000, I moderated a presidential debate that included all the candidates excluding the frontrunners, John McCain and George W. Bush. (Yes, had the frontrunners been on stage, I would not have been).

The backbenchers included Forbes and Buchanan again—though Buchanan was soon to jump parties—Alan Keyes, and Gary Bauer. For all their virtues, none of them was worth investing in.

Although Keyes and Buchanan were formidable speakers, neither had much else going for them, temperament most notably. Bauer and Forbes were amateurs on a lark.

In the face off with McCain, Bush, although an “establishment” candidate, was clearly the conservative in the race, which is why he won.

In 2008, McCain cashed in his war hero credentials and tacked to the right to win the Republican nomination. His most serious “conservative” opponent was Mitt Romney. Again, there was no solid conservative in the race.

The 2012 primary season was not much different than 2008. Romney ran to the right and faced no more substantial a conservative opponent than Rick Santorum, a good guy but one who seemed to be running for president because he had nothing better to do. Smart money went to Romney.

In the general election, Romney and Paul Ryan ran arguably the best conservative campaign since 1984. No candidate has ever performed better on television than Romney did in his first debate with Obama, and he might well have won the election had not CNN’s Candy Crowley tag-teamed with a dazed Obama to check Romney in Debate #2.

The myth persists that some four million Republicans stayed home in 2012 because Romney was too moderate or too Mormon or too something. The numbers don’t bear that out.

Romney received a million more votes than McCain did and outperformed him in 48 of 50 states. Only in Alaska, the Palin factor, and New Jersey, the Sandy factor, did McCain do better.

The bottom line is that the Republican establishment has not used its resources to nominate a moderate over a serious conservative candidate since 1976, and then did so only because Gerald Ford was the incumbent president.

With the rise of social media and alternative media outlets, conservatives in the Republican Party have more clout than ever, certainly more voice.

At the end of the day, if there is any anointing to be done, they are the ones who will do it, and the “establishment” money will follow.

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