Politics & Media
Dec 17, 2014, 10:06AM

The Jeb Bush/Mitt Romney Comparison Doesn’t Wash

But try telling that to a Salon pundit.

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Jeb Bush will have big problems winning the Republican nomination because he’s too much like Mitt Romney.

Can you catch the problem with that statement?

If so, you're quicker than Jim Newell at Salon, whose entire thesis appears to be that Bush is going to have trouble getting the Republican nomination because he’s too much like the guy who, as I remember, won the last Republican nomination. Newell’s kicker is that Bush's businesses engaged in off-shoring practices, and Romney engaged in off shoring practices... and somehow the sneers at Romney's off-shoring practices hurt him. Though how much could it have hurt him when he in fact won the nomination?

The logic here breaks down badly. Newell’s forced to feebly argue that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum almost beat Romney. This is silliness. Romney was the front-runner throughout the primaries; Gingrich and Santorum had exactly zero chance of winning anything except maybe Fox News appearances; their institutional party support was always small. Nor did the attacks hurt Romney in the general election, where he did just about exactly as well as the fundamentals suggested he would. The idea that being a big, ruthless businessman is going to hurt you in a Republican primary is absurd, and directly contradicted by the fact that the last nominee was in fact a big, ruthless businessman. This is your evidence that Jeb Bush can't be the Republican candidate?

Newell goes on to argue that Bush is going to have troubles because of his involvement with Lehman Brothers, but come on. Most voters don't have any idea what Lehman Brothers is. Complicated financial transactions, no matter how odious, are extremely unlikely to sink a candidate. Sexual impropriety everyone can understand; start talking about banks and eyes glaze over. Voters understand getting stuck in traffic, which is why Chris Christie's thuggish bridge scandal might actually damage him. But Bush's connection to Lehman Brothers means little, and won’t have the slightest effect on his nomination, or lack thereof.

Newell admits that Bush's resources and party backing might win him the nomination anyway—which is another way of admitting, by the back door, that Bush is an entirely legitimate candidate, whose strengths could easily outweigh his weaknesses. "Why do the elite Republicans seem so intent to get this fellow, who has all sorts of glaring problems, in the running?" Newell asks. Well, because even you admit that Bush could win the primary and the general election. Winning is the whole game here. You don't get points, or lose them, based on whether you happen to appeal to political columnists at Salon.

So does that mean Bush will win the nomination? I have no idea. He's certainly a viable candidate—there are a bunch of other viable Republicans running, from Scott Walker to Christie. Walker, Christie, Bobby Jindal and anybody else who is going to run will have weaknesses too. Pundits sometimes talk as if there's some perfect candidate somewhere, untarnished by controversial opinions, or electoral or policy failures, or scandal of any sort. Those candidates don't exist. Every person who’s won the presidency had failures as a candidate. Barack Obama had Jeremiah Wright. John McCain is a compulsive asshole who alienated huge swaths of his own party. Ronald Reagan was ideologically way to the right of center. John Kennedy was Catholic.

But you don't need to be a perfect candidate to win a nomination. You just need to be less imperfect than the competition. Bush's connection to George W. might damage him with some voters; so could his stance on immigration reform. But everybody else has connections or policies that could damage them too.

—Follow Noah Berlatsky on Twitter: @hoodedu

  • Agree that there's little similar about Romney and Bush, aside from the latter also having a lot of wealth. I suppose it'll be common for all GOP candidates, but Bush's idiotic condemnation of Obama's Cuba move (notwithstanding Florida politics), pisses me off. Normalization of relations with Cuba should've been done a long time ago, and, in fact, pre-9/11, it was on George Bush's agenda.

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  • Couldn't agree more with your disappointment with Jeb Until the Repubs get over the "take the opposite position from Obama no matter how stupid that position may be" attitude, they will not take back the WH

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  • Hadn't seen Jeb weigh in on Cuba. That is depressing.// Texan, I don't think that sort of thing hurts Republicans at the polls, unfortunately. If the economy tanks in 2016, we'll have a Republican president.

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  • Romney faced a passel of joke candidates in '12 and still had to slog long and hard before he got the nomination. Rand Paul alone strikes me as a far better candidate than damaged goods like Santorum and Newt. Jeb is still likely to get the nom because the money men are behind him, but the money men pick candidates that the base doesn't like. Hence there's a good chance of a painful and drawn-out process similar to '12. Jeb doesn't have much more charm than Romney and he's going to have a much harder time dodging right on immigration.

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  • Rand Paul doesn't have a chance. The Republican party isn't going to elect someone who is adamently anti-intervention; he'll have some rabid support from libertarians, but he's not getting anywhere near the nomination (is my guess.)// There is a stronger field this year though; plenty of people could beat Bush. But he could beat them too.

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  • The question is whether he'll win (I don't know) but whether he'll have a hard time winning and for reasons similar to the reasons that gave Romney a hard time. Looks like that will be the case.

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  • Oh, I meant "question isn't"

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  • I wrote a blog predicting Romney will eventually enter the race and outshine Bush. http://randybamboo.com/

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  • Not buying your prediction, Randy. Romney is yesterday's news. I don't think Jeb Bush is a good candidate, but GOP will turn elsewhere.

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