Is America Ready for President Bush III?

Published: 30th October 2014 05:35 PM  |   Last Updated: 30th October 2014 05:35 PM   |  A+A-

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It is a question that is on every politico's lips these days as Republicans search for a candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton in 2016: could America be ready for a third Bush in the White House just eight years after George W left office?


The first thing to know about the next Bush in line, 61-year-old Jeb Bush, the two-term former governor of Florida and younger brother of George W Bush, is that he is very different from the man who took American stumbling into a disastrous war in Iraq.


When he speaks, there is no mangling of verbs or fuddling of thoughts: this Bush uses phrases such as "high growth agenda" based on "outcome-based regulations" shaped by "cost-benefit analysis". Conducting an hour-long question and answer with an eminent professor of politics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, it is clear that Jeb Bush is at ease roaming freely over economics, immigration, foreign policy and defence.


And on many of the hot-button issues such as immigration reform and education, this Mr Bush is far more liberal and pragmatic than the mainly white, Evangelical Christian base of the Republican Party that twice propelled his older brother to power.


Heavier set than George W, he looks at ease with himself as he takes questions, diving into policy but also raising laughs from an audience of students and professors, as he cracks a joke about Florida basketball and ad-libs when interrupted by a wailing baby.


The talk of a potential Bush-Clinton showdown in 2016 has been fuelled this week by remarks from his son, George P Bush, that the family is now "100 per cent" behind Jeb if he decides to run, hinting that objections from both his wife and mother had now been overcome.


"I think it's more than likely that he's giving this a serious thought in moving forward," George P told ABC News.


For now, Mr Bush is not saying, but he sounds very much like a man giving serious consideration to the idea as he describes the global economic shifts that have "torn asunder" the social contract with America's middle classes.


"We can grow at 3 to 4 per cent a year," he promises, arguing that if America could return to growth "the cloud of pessimism would be lifted" and young people would, like his baby-boomer generation, not be cowed by the "unforeseen", but embrace it as an opportunity.


There remain, however, two major hurdles to a potential Bush candidacy, even leaving aside the broader question about whether the country is really ready for a another Bush presidency, even one that his supporters contend could redeem the failings of the last.


The first is personal. Mr Bush says he is unsure whether he can face the grind of a modern presidential race where news cycles are no longer measured in days, but in hours and even minutes, and where the media looks only for gaffes.


"I'm not going to give up my sense of being a human being," he says.


"What we need to do is put aside the little trackers that follow you around and digitise everything and have a conversation with people, to begin to forge consensus.


"I'm not training myself to limit myself. I find the political discourse in America to be increasingly sterile when it needs to be a lot more open and dynamic. If I was to be a candidate I have to figure out how I can be who I am, without losing that. Or I'd go nuts, I couldn't do it."


The second question is whether today's Republican Party, with its obsession on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage and its anti-immigrant bent, could be persuaded to choose Mr Bush.
In 2012, as Mitt Romney was driven fatally Rightwards by his party's base, Mr Bush observed from the sidelines that Ronald Reagan and George W Bush would have had a "hard time" finding support in today's party.


And he is not backing away from that stance: "I don't think conservatives in this environment can win by being less liberal. We have to change our language, we have to change our focus and it has to be a more aspirational message."


A more welcoming policy on immigration, he argues, is central to driving America's economic recovery. He cites his own experience of marrying Columba, who is Mexican, and cites the mixed racial heritage of his granddaughter, Georgia Helena Walker Bush.


"She's named after her great-granddad [George H W Bush] and is a Texas-Mexican-Canadian-Iraqi-American," he says to applause. "She'll speak three languages and she's what America looks like, she's the America we should be proud of, not fear."


And on foreign policy, while many conservatives are deeply war-weary, Mr Bush promises not the interventionism of his brother but a restoration of American global leadership. "I know American sentiment is to pull back. There's fatigue. I get that, I read the polls. But a president can't just be a poll reader," he says.

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