Eric Cantor’s Defeat Exposes Jeb Bush’s Vulnerabilities in 2016

Bush shares many of the same vulnerabilities as Cantor — a rusty political operation and being out of touch on the issues that animate conservatives.

Former Fl. Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Republican National Convention. 
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
June 11, 2014, 9:42 a.m.

At the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s nadir after Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2008 vic­tory, House Minor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor or­gan­ized a pizzer­ia pow­wow to un­veil ideas for Re­pub­lic­an re­form. Can­tor in­vited Mitt Rom­ney and Jeb Bush to at­tend the kick­off event for his new group, the Na­tion­al Coun­cil for a New Amer­ica, and share their ideas on how to re­vital­ize the Re­pub­lic­an Party. As Time‘s Jay New­ton-Small wrote at the time: “If Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers have their way, Sat­urday’s gath­er­ing at Pie-Tanza “¦ will be re­membered as the be­gin­ning of the re­birth of the Grand Old Party.” I at­ten­ded the event at my neigh­bor­hood pizzer­ia to get a taste of the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s fu­ture dir­ec­tion. In ret­ro­spect, it was the first sign of the lead­er­ship’s de­clin­ing in­flu­ence with­in its own party, and the polit­ic­al fu­til­ity of pro­mot­ing re­forms with­in a di­vided party that couldn’t agree on what it stood for. 

Five years later, the three es­tab­lish­ment lead­ers have been de­feated by grass­roots forces with­in their own party. Rom­ney lost to Pres­id­ent Obama after strug­gling to unite the party dur­ing a con­ten­tious primary cam­paign, while Can­tor was de­feated by an ob­scure col­lege pro­fess­or in one of the most mem­or­able up­sets in elec­tion his­tory. Jeb Bush is still mulling wheth­er to run in 2016, but giv­en Can­tor’s de­cis­ive de­feat, his chances of suc­ceed­ing look as weak as ever.

Bush’s vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies in a Re­pub­lic­an primary would be re­mark­ably sim­il­ar to those Can­tor faced. Bush is an un­apo­lo­get­ic sup­port­er of com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, fam­ously call­ing il­leg­al im­mig­rants’ at­tempts to come to this coun­try “an act of love.” Last Fri­day, Can­tor stirred the pot be­fore his primary by sug­gest­ing he could work with Pres­id­ent Obama to al­low a path to cit­izen­ship for some chil­dren of il­leg­al im­mig­rants already in the coun­try. On edu­ca­tion, Bush has cham­pioned the Com­mon Core edu­ca­tion­al stand­ards, which have be­come a lit­mus-test is­sue for con­ser­vat­ives, who view them as usurp­ing loc­al con­trol of schools. In the con­gres­sion­al cam­paign, Dav­id Brat cri­ti­cized Can­tor for sup­port­ing cent­ral­ized edu­ca­tion­al re­forms, in­clud­ing Com­mon Core.

Most im­port­ant, Bush’s biggest vul­ner­ab­il­ity would be the rusti­ness of a fu­ture cam­paign op­er­a­tion. He hasn’t run an elec­tion since 2002, and he’s proven slow to ad­apt to the new, light­ning-fast me­dia land­scape. Since Can­tor’s de­feat Tues­day night, Re­pub­lic­an strategists al­lied with the him are ex­press­ing as­ton­ish­ment at his shoddy polit­ic­al op­er­a­tion. They point to a grow­ing dis­con­nect from his con­stitu­ents even though he was only a short drive from his dis­trict, his air­ing of tone-deaf ads that raised Brat’s name iden­ti­fic­a­tion without hurt­ing his polit­ic­al stand­ing, and his poll­ster’s wildly in­ac­cur­ate sur­vey show­ing him up 34 points in the clos­ing stretch of the primary. One top Re­pub­lic­an Party of­fi­cial, sur­vey­ing the pre­cinct-by-pre­cinct res­ults, said, “He lost nearly every­where, all across the board. This was polit­ic­al mal­prac­tice.”

If he ran, Bush would be en­ter­ing a brave new world of Re­pub­lic­an polit­ics — one plainly un­fa­mil­i­ar to him. He’d face a group of Re­pub­lic­an pro­spects much bet­ter at­tuned to the more pop­u­list fla­vor of the GOP — Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er, even Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida, to name a few. Bush would bring an A-team of strategists and donors to the table, but the past three elec­tion cycles have shown that top tal­ent is no match for the chan­ging mood of the Re­pub­lic­an elect­or­ate.

After the Can­tor event in 2009, I chased down Bush as he was ex­it­ing the pizzer­ia, in­quir­ing about his in­terest in the 2012 pres­id­en­tial race. This, after he gave a com­pel­ling present­a­tion about in­nov­at­ive edu­ca­tion re­forms, in­clud­ing those he in­tro­duced in his home state. He mocked the ob­sess­ive horse-race cov­er­age of the polit­ic­al press, and said he was fo­cused on policy and had no in­terest in talk­ing about fu­ture cam­paigns. In cer­tain ways, that was re­fresh­ing to hear, but it also signaled a dis­in­terest in do­ing the polit­ic­al things ne­ces­sary to win in a highly com­pet­it­ive busi­ness. And as time has passed, Bush seems all the more dis­con­nec­ted from the pas­sions that have an­im­ated his own party’s base.

“Causes beat cam­paigns. [Can­tor’s de­feat] was a vic­tory for the pop­u­list cause with­in the Re­pub­lic­an Party,” said Re­pub­lic­an strategist Alex Cas­tel­lanos, a lead­ing ad­voc­ate for GOP re­forms. “Those who thought the tea party had been ab­sorbed just got a big wake-up call. It’s alive and well and eat­ing elite es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans for break­fast.”

What We're Following See More »
ON SANCTUARY CITIES
White House Attacks Judge Who Suspended Executive Order
23 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

U.S. District Judge William Orrick Tuesday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing part of an executive order calling for the end of federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities. The decision was followed by a scathing rebuke from the White House, a precedent-breaking activity which with this White House has had no qualms. A White House statement called the decision an "egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge." The statement was followed by an inaccurate Wednesday morning tweetstorm from Trump, which railed against the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. While Judge Orrick's district falls within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit, Orrick himself does not serve on the Ninth Circuit.

MAY BRING CONSERVATIVES ON BOARD, BUT WHAT ABOUT MODERATES?
House GOP Circulates Amendment on Preexisting Conditions
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"House Republicans are circulating the text of an amendment to their ObamaCare replacement bill that they believe could bring many conservatives on board. According to legislative text of the amendment," drafted by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), "the measure would allow states to apply for waivers to repeal one of ObamaCare’s core protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Conservatives argue the provision drives up premiums for healthy people, but Democrats—and many more moderate Republicans—warn it would spark a return to the days when insurance companies could charge sick people exorbitantly high premiums."

AT LEAST 30 TO BE ASSESSED
Trump to Order Review of National Monuments
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

President Trump on Wednesday "will order a review of national monuments created over the past 20 years with an aim toward rescinding or resizing some of them—part of a broader push to reopen areas to drilling, mining, and other development." Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters on Tuesday said he'd be reviewing about 30 monuments.

Source:
EMERGING BUDGET FRAMEWORK?
Dems Proposes Obamacare-for-Defense Deal
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."

Source:
WHITE HOUSE BLOCKING DOC REQUEST
Michael Flynn Remains A Russian-Sized Problem
19 hours ago
BREAKING

The Michael Flynn story is not going away for the White House as it tries to refocus its attention. The White House has denied requests from the House Oversight Committee for information and documents regarding payments that the former national security adviser received from Russian state television station RT and Russian firms. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings also said that Flynn failed to report these payments on his security clearance application. White House legislative director Marc Short argued that the documents requested are either not in the possession of the White House or contain sensitive information he believes is not applicable to the committee's stated investigation.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login