The Fall of the House of Bush


Wednesday’s Republican debate had several interesting stories (I wrote about it here) but the most dramatic, and the most shocking from an historical perspective, is the decline of the candidacy of Jeb Bush. Although Bush never enjoyed the “inevitable” frontrunner status that Hillary Clinton holds over her fellow Democrats, Bush was seen as the man to beat at the start of his campaign. He had name recognition, a record of conservative governance, loads of cash, and connections to a family machine that knows how to win. But all those advantages have amounted to little as Jeb’s supporters slowly drained away over the last few months.

Plenty of pundits are calling this the end of Jeb. And for most candidates, it would be. But Jeb still has those resources to draw on, and I don’t think he’ll drop out before the Iowa caucus. Still, his position looks precarious.

This is kind of a strange thing to say. For years, we’ve been hearing about how Jeb was the smarter brother, the more reasonable, the more capable, the more electable. But those promises have all withered in the heat of a national campaign. Maybe George W. Bush was a better politician than we gave him credit for.

With voters and donors beginning to doubt him, Bush took drastic action, attacking his erstwhile protege Marco Rubio on national television. But Jeb is not meant for the heel’s turn. Everyone could tell his heart wasn’t in it, and after Rubio’s devastating response, Bush almost seemed to accept the rebuke, knowing he deserved it.

I’ve supported all of the Bushes for as long as I can remember being interested in politics. Look at this picture:


One of those young Republicans is me (the other three are all Democrats now). Even then, I wanted four more years of a Bush presidency. In 2000, I voted for George W. in the primary and the general. I did the same in 2004, and I’m glad I did. All things being equal, 2008 should have been Jeb’s time. But all things are not equal, and even had 2008 not been a disastrous year for all Republicans, the voters were not likely to elect the brother of a man who had held the White House for the past eight years, no matter how popular or unpopular he might be.

We have a love-hate relationship with dynastic politics in this country, but twelve or sixteen years straight of the same family would have been too much for most any voter to swallow. That’s a credit to America’s republican values, but it doomed the chances of an otherwise highly qualified man. 2012, too, came and went. Could Jeb have won then? Maybe. I think he would’ve done better than Mitt Romney, especially in Florida, but even that might not have been enough. Which brings us to today.

Dynastic politics make me uncomfortable, as they do for a lot of people who believe that our republic should not be ruled by a small clique of powerful families. But I have to admit, that Jeb is a Bush is one of the things I liked about him. The Bushes are smart, conservative and (most importantly), they know how to win. And no matter what you think of a primary candidate, the first question you must ask about him is “can he win?” I thought Jeb could win, because I saw his brother win.

Lots of people look on Jeb’s fall with glee, but I’m not one of them. I still think no other candidate is better equipped to do the job of President from day one. He’s smart, well-versed on the issues, and ready to hit the ground running. If Pennsylvania’s primary were today, I’d probably still vote for him. But, more and more, I think 2016 is not Jeb’s year. What’s worse, it is probably his last chance.

On to Boulder


COORS12PKCANS3bfhrp6SlXf_anHTonight, fourteen of the fifteen remaining Republican candidates meet at the Coors Event Center in Boulder, Colorado for their third debate. As before, the size of the field forced the organizers to split it into two debates. In the first, which no one will watch, Bobby Jindal, Lindsay Graham, George Pataki and Rick Santorum will struggle for attention. Jim Gilmore wasn’t invited. How much longer will these men continue to campaign? Jindal, alone, has a chance of breaking out of the pack, and even his odds are looking longer by the day.

In the main debate, erstwhile frontrunner Donald Trump will participate from behind in the polls for the first time. He must do something to regain his dwindling fanbase, but I don’t think it’s possible. What brought them to him in the first place had nothing to do with words or reason, and no words or reason can bring them back. What will be interesting is how he tries: will Trump attack the new favorite, Ben Carson, or will he continue his assault on Jeb Bush?

Carson, who now outpolls Trump in Iowa by a significant margin, is difficult to figure out. It’s hard for the other candidates to go negative against him because even people (like me) who don’t want to vote for him still think of him as a decent man. The usual Trump bombast might backfire. On the other hand, a more solid performance from Carson might increase his lead, especially if he looks less bewildered than last time.

For Bush, who I think who would do the best job as President, the challenge is to show himself as the best candidate. His campaign has featured the most well-thought-out policy proposals of any of them, but he has yet to translate earnest desire for the job into a more inspirational fire in the belly that will draw supporters to his cause.

Of all of the candidates, Marco Rubio has risen the most in my estimation through his debate performance. He consistently knows what he’s talking about and comes up with thoughtful, conservative answers. His poll numbers have been rising, and another good performance could convince undecided voters that he is up to the job.

Since her inspiring performance last time, Carly Fiorina has been coasting back down to the middle of the pack. She’s the most credible of the outsider candidates, and this is her chance to show it again. Cruz, too, could use this debate as the chance to push ahead of the pack. As the only candidate to straddle the outsider-insider divide, he could pick up some of the supporters Trump is losing, especially if he manages to sound more bellicose. They seem to like that.

Christie has been out of the news so much I keep forgetting he’s running. He had a good showing last time, but something seems to be holding him back. Likewise, Kasich has been getting some supporters, but seems blocked by the other mainstream candidates. Paul will keep looking for the libertarian moment. Sadly, I don’t think 2016 is it. But some good answers on civil liberties questions might brighten his candidacy.

Huckabee will probably make some good conservative answers and sell a few more books, which seems to be the point of his candidacy.

If you’re tired of my opinions, here are some from a few other people:

Clinton and the banks


Yesterday, Hillary Clinton appeared on the Late Show with Steven Colbert, hoping to highlight that fun-loving side of her personality we are constantly assured actually exists.

Clinton was asked about the role of government in protecting the banking industry from financial crises (discussion begins at 26:08). Focusing on the bailouts that polarized the country in 2008, the host asked: “If you’re president and the banks are failing, do we let them fail?” Without hesitation, Clinton responded emphatically: “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”

She didn’t stop there. Clinton promised a new tax on banks (a “risk fee”) and stricter enforcement of the Volcker Rule, which separates banks’ speculative activities from their retail banking.

These are grand promises sure to inspire her fans on the far left. But will she follow through? Unlike most candidates, we need not take Clinton at her word about bank bailouts. We have evidence: in 2008, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, authorizing the government bailout that became known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, came before the Senate. It passed the Senate by a vote of 74 to 25. Did the Senator from New York side with her Wall Street backers?

The answer will not surprise you: she did. Along with then-Senator Barack Obama, Clinton voted to authorize the bailout. Speaking on behalf of the bill, Clinton was enthusiastic in her endorsement of government action:

This is a sink or swim moment for our country. We cannot merely catch our breath. We must swim for the shores and we must do so together…. There is so much work to be done in America, so many investments that make us richer and stronger and safer and smarter that will enable us to look in the eyes of our children and grandchildren and tell them we are leaving our country in as good, in fact, better shape than when we found it.

That is quite an endorsement for a bill that did the exact thing she now inveighs against. Is this more Clintonian mendacity, or has she truly had a change of heart and embraced the Occupy Wall Street mindset? Again, we need not speculate. Let’s look at the evidence in her list of campaign donors. Who’s on the list? Morgan Stanley. J.P. Morgan Chase. Bank of America.

Either these bankers decided to enable a candidate who promises to leave them high and dry, or they know that this is all just hot air. I’ll bet on the latter.

Two throwbacks


As promised, this is the next in a series of posts on my thoughts about the 2016 presidential candidates. Today, I’ll cover two of the less popular candidates: Jim Gilmore and George Pataki, both of whom should just give up already.

Besides consistently polling below 1%, the two have a great deal in common. Both were governors of large states around the turn of the century: Gilmore in Virginia (1998-2002) and Pataki in New York (1995-2006). Both have considered running for President before, with Gilmore launching an exploratory committee in 2008 and Pataki trying to gin up support in Iowa in 2012. Both would have made excellent candidates in years ago and both have been out of elected office for so long that they have no real chance in 2016.

Gilmore is 66 years old and is best known in Virginia for reducing the car tax. That tax still exists down there and even my Democratic friends there still complain about it, so it must have been a real bear. After leaving office in 2002 (Virginia’s governors are term-limited) and making a failed bid for the U.S. Senate in 2008, Gilmore has served on various boards and contributed to Fox News. He made a good impression in the first Republican debate, but he was in the secondary group that received far less attention. He seems eminently qualified, but I can’t help thinking that being out of office for thirteen years has diminished the voters’ awareness of him to the vanishing point. I don’t know why he’s still running.

Pataki, at 70, is the oldest candidate in the Republican race (Trump is next oldest at 69). He served three terms as Governor of New York, having defeated lefty icon Mario Cuomo in 1994, a great year for Republicans. He was about as conservative as a New York Republican can be, bringing back the death penalty and cutting taxes while being more to the left of the national party on the environment and gay issues. Pataki was reelected twice and retired from the state house in 2006. After declining a run at the Senate in 2010, Pataki has been around, but not in office. In 2008, he probably would’ve made a good candidate. In 2016, having not run for office in fourteen years, he, too, has been forgotten by many voters. His debate performance stood out to me mostly for his enthusiastic endorsement of NSA surveillance. I don’t know why he’s still running.

Both of these men have decent credentials, but their time has come gone. The best thing they would do is drop out, endorse somebody more popular, and work to keep the party from nominating Donald Trump. But I think it will take a few more undercard debates to drive it home to them.

Lesser Son


In Thursday’s post, I mentioned posting on all of the Presidential candidates and said “I should write up my thoughts on Chafee before it’s too late.”

It’s too late.

During the Democratic debate, Lincoln Chafee seemed unimpressive, even among a field of candidates I was not planning on voting for. I summed up my thoughts on him in a tweet:

But Chafee’s confusion goes beyond the bewilderment he displayed on stage that night. Why did he even run? Molly Ball at the Atlantic has a very nice article on the question, but I don’t think she has an answer to the enigma. I don’t even think Chafee does.

Chafee’s father, John Chafee, seems like an impressive individual. Yale and Harvard Law, two tours in the Marines, a succession of elective and appointive offices as a Republican in a state that was even then heavily Democratic. This was a man who, had he run, could have attracted some support for President.

Chafee the younger shows more clearly than other candidates the problem with dynastic politics. Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Rand Paul all benefited from family connections. But each of them shows the individual qualities that, absent the dynasty, might still have allowed them to be successful in some profession. With Lincoln Chafee, it’s hard to make that argument.

Benghazi and Madison


I was too busy at work to watch any of Mrs. Clinton’s testimony at the Benghazi hearings yesterday, so I did the next best thing and checked out Twitter periodically to see the partisans on both sides of the media defend their standard-bearer. I obviously fall on one side of that line, but the willful blindness of the reporters in the Clinton camp was more difficult to take than usual.

Most of the press support her party in the upcoming elections, and that’s neither surprising nor likely to change, but pretending not to understand the problem here, and pretending to be shocked at the partisanship of the hearings is absurd. Some of us have memories that predate January 2009, and we recall that Congress has always, always had partisan hearings. It’s the whole nature of check and balances.

Part of the genius of our system of government is that it is designed to be carried out by self-interested people and factions. Our founding fathers did not delude themselves into thinking that only the purest of men would lead the nation; to the contrary, they knew that people craved power, and they set up a Constitution that would use that desire to help us govern.

A Congress jealous of the executive’s strength is going to use its powers, including the power of investigation, to limit that executive. They will do this not because they are paragons of virtue, but because they want that power for themselves. And it works! Congresses investigate presidential wrongdoing. Is it political? Yes! And that’s a good thing! Politics is the way a free people governs itself.

James Madison put it best in Federalist 51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Mankind is imperfect and antagonistic, but in their mutual antagonism, the branches of government check each others abuses and preserve the people’s liberty. That’s what we saw today, and that’s what we’ll see in the next administration, and the one after that, and the one after that. Today, whether anyone will admit it or not, the system worked.

Bye bye Biden


Yesterday, Joe Biden announced that he would not seek the Presidency, effectively ceding the field to Hillary Clinton. I had planned to write up my thoughts on each of the contenders, but we’ve already lost two Republicans and two Democrats. What’s worse is they were some of the better candidates out there. I should write up my thoughts on Chafee before it’s too late.

Webb and Biden were my two favorite Democrats, although that’s not saying much. Webb I liked because he is, in many ways, more of a Republican than a Democrat. Biden was the best of the real Dems, to me, because he seemed likable and not corrupt, even if he’s been wrong on most of the issues other than his support for Amtrak. But let’s be honest: I would almost certainly never have voted for him.

What excited me about a Biden candidacy, beyond an indecent schadenfreude in seeing her1 discomfited, was the thought that if he were to get in, it would have to mean that he knew something was coming down for her. Something bad. Something disqualifying.

I figured that Biden jumping in, against his better judgement, would have meant that he knew Clinton would be indicted for her crimes and that the Democrats would need some suave Trans Am enthusiast to save them from Sanders and his legions of Wobblies. Now that Biden’s out, the same thought process makes me fear that he knows the fix is in, which leaves him with no shot.

There’s still a chance that President Obama’s Justice Department will indict a former member of his cabinet, but that chance is a little smaller today.

  1. Yes, like Shelob to the Orcs of Mordor, there is only one her on this blog.

Tangled Webb


It looks like the end of Jim Webb’s quest for the presidency, at least as a Democrat. I thought he would hang around a little longer but, having given reporters a chance to dust off the word “quixotic,” Webb’s campaign appears to be an end.

As we discussed last week, Webb was bound to fail because the constituency he represented most strongly, Appalachian Democrats, no longer exists in any strength. The shift has been dramatic, much more so than the lowland South’s fifty-year mosey over to the party of Lincoln or New England’s gradual drift to the party of Jeff Davis. Parts of Appalachia, like eastern Tennessee, have always had Republicans (V.O. Key made that point in Southern Politics in 1949!) but much of the region stayed strong until much more recently. Look at the George Bush’s 1988 landslide: even as every state around it voted Republican, West Virginia was Dukakis’s sixth-best state. Clinton carried it twice, and it wasn’t even close! But since George W. Bush narrowly won it (and the surrounding regions of nearby states) in 2000, the Democrats have given up on West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia. Webb’s fate just proves the point to anyone who had any doubt.

Being abandoned by one party, though, doesn’t make you love the other. Plenty of Webb Democrats are now Republicans, but I suspect many others simply view the G.O.P. as the next best thing, rather than a true political home as FDR’s Democratic Party was to them. Without an effort from the Republicans, Webb Democrats have as much chance of becoming Trumpites as anything. Republicans have been getting better at envisioning solutions to urban poverty, they should not neglect the plight of the rural poor. The national Democrats have abandoned a whole section of America. The GOP should not do the same.