As the 2016 presidential campaign starts to gather steam, prominent Republican names are rushing to the fore. One is that of Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush.
The thinking is that as painful memories of W’s administration fade (to recap, two unfunded wars, soaring deficits and, as a grand finale, economic collapse), the public may feel more open to the idea of another Bush in the White House.
According to lore, Jeb was always the more competent son. He was too preoccupied in 2000 to inherit, or rather vie for, the presidency. Hence, we got W.
An interesting strategy: Keep electing Bush boys until we get one who works out.
Not to be forgotten is another Bush son, Neil Bush. Neil got into some trouble during the ’80s economic meltdown. At the tender age of 30, he was made director of Silverado Savings and Loan in Denver. The institution cratered, leaving taxpayers with a bailout bill of $1.3 billion. The directors barely skirted fraud charges, though they did have to pay civil fines.
Twenty years later, George W. was in the White House and presiding over a similar financial debacle. The details differed, but both scandals were the sad result of letting Wall Street operators play around with taxpayer-guaranteed money.
Now Jeb is supposed to be the real chip off the old block, the heir to H.W.’s moderation and basic decency. And he did a pretty good job as Florida governor.
Furthermore, he’s enlightened on immigration and serious about education, supporting Common Core, the national standards on what students should learn. Common Core enjoys bipartisan support but no love from an odd coalition of folks on the right and teachers unions.
Jeb is not an unattractive Republican candidate, especially given the competition. As governor, he didn’t use motorists as hostages in a political drama as did you-know-who. Nor does he hold the government he seeks to lead in contempt as do Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Perry.
But there is this recurring Bush problem of offering the family’s gilded name to iffy businesses needing respectability and, in the process, making a quick few million. For example, Jeb joined InnoVida, a Miami startup that specialized in producing building materials and false financial documents. The company went bankrupt. The founder went to prison. And the investors lost big.
George W. did get his hands dirty making $14 million off the Texas Rangers stadium deal. And all he and his partners had to do was get the city of Arlington to seize land from private owners and con it into raising its sales tax to subsidize their business.
The Republican punditry is rightly concerned that Jeb’s political moderation will unleash the usual battle between the right-leaning base and an establishment seeking an electable candidate. The tea partyers on the right profess to despise crony capitalism and, actually, would be doing us all a service if they took the trouble to follow through on their objections.
But their biggest concern about Jeb’s business dealings seems to involve his service on the board of Tenet Healthcare. You see, the giant hospital chain has been singing the praises of the Affordable Care Act. It is the duty of every right-winger to hate Obamacare.
So who knows what will happen in 2016 Bush-wise? For the time being, the Bush name still seems able to lure unsuspecting investors into companies they should suspect. As for the taxpayers, they’ll do their bit.
We could do worse than Jeb, but gosh.
• Froma Harrop is a member of the Providence Journal editorial board. Follow her on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.