“Bush 41, 43 and 45?” reads the tagline on the cover of New York magazine’s new issue, in which Joe Hagan profiles Jeb Bush, putting forth the notion that if 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney loses, the former governor of Florida’s postponed presidential moment may yet come in 2016.
As you would expect, Hagan’s story is not just about Jeb but focuses on the entire Bush dynasty.
Hagan, the author of Texas Monthly‘ s investigation of the Dan Rather/George W. Bush National Guard controversy, opens with Jeb striking a note that has already been sung around Texas often–Texas’s rapidly changing ethnic make-up could adversely affect Republicans.
But Jeb seems to think that this could happen a lot sooner than most people (including Texas Monthly‘s Paul Burka and Republican Party of Texas chairman Steve Munisteri) do. Encountering Bush for the first time during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Hagen writes:
Sitting down across from me, [Jeb] assumes his role as party Cassandra, warning of the day when the Republicans’ failure to tap an exploding Hispanic population will cripple its chances at reclaiming power—starting in Texas, the family seat of the House of Bush.
“It’s a math question,” he tells me. “Four years from now, Texas is going to be a so-called blue state. Imagine Texas as a blue state, how hard it would be to carry the presidency or gain control of the Senate.”
Imagine. Four years from now.
That timetable, of course, would serves Jeb’s own potential political goal, as well that of his eldest son, George Prescott Bush. And that’s the theme of Hagan’s story:
Once again, it is impossible to ignore Jeb Bush describing a problem he’s uniquely suited to solve for his party: a popular two-time governor of a Hispanic-heavy state, with a record of improving education for minorities, fluent in Spanish, married to a Latina, and father to two Hispanic sons, George P. Bush and Jeb Jr. By Jeb Bush’s own calculus, Jeb Bush would make a great presidential candidate . . .
Except for this big kicker: Jeb is not only cursed by America’s negative view of the George W. Bush presidency, but negativity in Texas about the Bush name for completely different reasons:
Among Republicans in his home state, purified in the fires of the tea-party movement, Bush is persona non grata. “Imagine a world where George Bush is too liberal,” says Evan Smith, the editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune. “That’s Texas 2012.”
But Texas political consultant and former Bush aide Mark McKinnon tells Hagan, “I believe the Bushes are true north…and we’ve got to get that back.” Hagan continues:
For a party with clear fissures, Jeb Bush is an insurance policy against a Romney loss to Barack Obama. Many Republicans believe losing in November would create an epic struggle between the hard right of the party and the moderates who believe that to win, the GOP has to make a credible effort to court Hispanics. Jeb is the obvious leader of the moderate wing.
(Illustration by Roberto Parada for New York magazine)
Other highlights of the story:
- Hagan reports that Barbara Bush’s so-called Christmas card list, controlled by George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff in Houston, Jean Becker, remains an instant campaign treasury for any Bush who chooses to tap into it, with the potential to raise $30 million.
- He quotes a “close family associate” as saying the Bushes “think [Karl Rove]’s a shithead.” Rove is closely associated with Dubya, of course, but not the elder George, nor Jeb.
- Hagan reports that Jeb and his Mexican-born wife, Columba, moved from Houston to Florida in the eighties in part because his wife “had experienced racism among their white, Republican circles in Houston. When I ask Bush about this, he acknowledges that it happened. ‘Subtle, subtle,’ he says. ‘It’s very different now, very welcoming, very open, particularly the big open areas.'”
- Hagan also says that behind the scenes, the Bush family has already been “making advance funeral arrangements and encouraging news outlets to prepare obituaries” for the wheelchair-bound H.W.
“Can the Republican Party embrace a moderate again,” Hagan asks towards the end of the story, while noting that Jeb has successfully aligned himself with Florida senator Marco Rubio, just as his son George P. is now aligned with presumptive Texas senator Ted Cruz: both Hispanic, both Tea Party-approved conservatives.
And that, of course, is the story’s final twist. If Jeb’s day doesn’t come, his son’s day probably will. Not that this is news in Texas. George P. is currently deputy finance chair for the Republican Party of Texas, and he’s widely expected to run for statewide office in 2014. Writes Hagan:
In his new role, George P. Bush is connecting with the big Texas donors, many of whom have been on his grandmother’s Christmas-card list since the sixties. “I learn more about my family on the campaign trail than I do in person,” he says.
“George P.’s future in Texas in unlimited,” says James Huffines, a Texas financier and GOP fund-raiser. “He’s the right age, he connects well with people, he has good political instincts, and he bucked the Establishment and got onboard with Ted Cruz.”
Hagan also notes that George P. consults not just with his father, but with his uncle, and that Dubya has “evinced more enthusiasm about P.’s prospects than Jeb’s.” Hagan writes:
[Dubya] recently compared his nephew’s remarkable ability to transcend the racial divide between Hispanics and Caucasians to another successful biracial politician who got a lot of traction invoking the Bush name: Barack Obama.
“I would not conclude that we’re not going to ever see another Bush [presidential] candidate,” James Baker tells Hagan. He just doesn’t say which one.