Fearful GOPers, Failed Dem Prepare for Jeb Bush Draft

Jeb Bush

Republicans face a drawn-out nomination fight shredding the party’s chances against a vulnerable President Obama and Democratic under-ticket. To the rescue last week came former Alabama Democratic Congressman Artur Davis, who urges Republicans to draft former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as nominee.

Republicans are contending under new rules this year that may prevent any from first-ballot victory when delegates assemble Aug. 27 for the national convention. Imagine if delegates return to the “brokered convention” tradition whereby they vote on the first ballot for primary and caucus winners, and do whatever they want on the next ballots.

Two developments last week suggest that Bush, portrayed above, is well-positioned to unite the party as its convenes in Tampa in his home state. If so his selection would undermine Obama opposition research on current candidates and potentially unite Republicans for November:

Davis, Alabama’s most prominent Democrat until he lost his race for governor in 2010, published Jan. 24 in the National Review Online, “Draft Jeb Bush: A charismatic and accomplished governor can save the Republican Party.” He wrote:

Artur Davis

Enter the last dream date that Republicans may have at their disposal. His name is Jeb Bush, and this time, there is a feasibility around the idea that seemed unthinkable months ago. To be sure, the Jeb scenario will need more instability in order to flourish.

The likeliest path involves Gingrich’s momentum carrying him through Florida; the February races in Arizona and Michigan dividing between Romney and Gingrich; Romney rebounding in March in moderate-leaning Midwestern states such as Illinois and Wisconsin; Gingrich winning easily in the Deep South on Super Tuesday and Texas in early April, with Romney proving equally strong in New York and the rest of the Atlantic coastline, while states like Ohio and Indiana fail to resolve the split.

Second, Bush published an OpEd the next day in the Washington Post, “Four ways Republicans can win Hispanics back.” Bush’s column fostered the image as a sage rather above current battles. Neither he nor his brother have endorsed a contender.

The Bush bio identified him as co-chair of the Hispanic Leadership Network Conference, suggesting (like the Davis column) an appeal to minorities. The Hispanic Network is a center-right affiliate of the American Action Network. The latter’s GOP leaders include former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, financier Frederic Malek and former Bush I White House Counsel Boyden Gray, whose connections include Freedom Works, which funds Tea Party activities.

The Davis and Bush columns last paved the way for Bush to tell CNN’s John King Jan. 26, “I don’t think a party can aspire to be the majority party if it’s the old white guy party.” The full interview video and transcript are here.

Maybe this is all just coincidence or luck. But smart players, whether in politics, sports or any other gamble, put themselves in a position to benefit from breaks that come their way.

Here are reasons why conventional wisdom could change on whether a Jeb Bush nomination this summer might be too close to his older brother George’s terms from 2001-2009.

— Newt Gingrich’s nasty back-and-forth with Mitt Romney is likely to continue, especially since Romney started the toughest invective with Super PAC ads that badly hurt Gingrich in Iowa.

— Gingrich may have irreparably harmed Romney by forcing disclosure of his tax returns and otherwise transforming his image. Washington Post Columnist Dana Milbank, for example, reported last week, “Gingrich is Obama’s best surrogate.”

— But even some Republicans perceive Gingrich as too risky to be nominee. Thus, Post Chief Correspondent Dan Balz published “Neither Romney nor Gingrich give GOP voters confidence of a White House win” and “The GOP empire strikes back at Gingrich.”

— The Citizens United decision and Super PACs make it easier for candidates to go negative in a big way with more ability to deny personal involvement than in the past.

At least as important as any of this, Republicans changed their nominating rules this year in ways that can extend the battle far longer than in the past. The much-touted January contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida provide relatively few delegates, in part because GOP leaders reduced Florida’s normal delegate totals in view of its early start date. New rules divide up later contests primarily on a proportional basis, enabling hopeful losers to stay in the race.

The grudge-match between Romney and Gingrich makes reconciliation there difficult. And the niche platforms of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum provide strong incentive for each of them and their supporters to extend their campaigns all the way to the convention, especially the better-financed Paul. Paul, who is poised to corral delegates in caucus states, could well have the ability to prevent a first-ballot victory in Tampa by anyone else, regardless of whether Santorum continues.

More generally, pollster Stuart Rothenberg connected dots by describing the fear among Republican leaders of a colossal missed opportunity next November: “Will GOP Risk Goldwater II with Newt Gingrich in 2012?

If a Draft Bush scenario I’ve sketched is an actual possibility why isn’t it being aired more prominently now?

It’s hardly in the interests of the key players to describe their plans and options, except in a low-key way to a loyal audience like the National Review’s. Campaigns, pundit and many others are invested in letting the campaigns play out. Until recently, it looked like Romney would win easily. Other candidates are enhancing their stature, causes and personal opportunities (whether books or potential for leadership positions in or out of government) with almost every passing day. Campaign operatives, pollsters, political reporters, and broadcast networks make their livings on campaigns, not in killing enthusiasm.

The public would feel cheated if confidence waned that votes and all of the excitement really matter. Jeb Bush and his advisers would know this. So, Bush (or any other dark horse) must appear to be only a reluctant, last-minute choice drafted into service first by a grateful Republican Party and then in November by the nation.

To be sure, the best I can do is assemble the evidence in plain sight and confirm the logic with trusted sources who must remain behind the scenes. The key players have scant interest in describing all of their options and intrigues on camera or otherwise.

For example, Alabama Democrats widely suspected Davis, above, in 2010 of abandoning their core concerns in a fruitless bid to ingratiate himself with the state’s business and Republican powers, as I described for the Huffington Post in, “Why Alabama Democrats Rejected Centrist Artur Davis, Obama’s Pal.” Even during the campaign, neither Davis nor his campaign spokesman wanted to talk about such concerns. As a result, he experienced a humiliating defeat in his party’s gubernatorial primary that drove him from politics with a Nixon-like denunciation of his critics and voters. Thus his enthusiasm is entirely logical for a Jeb Bush candidacy under the auspices of new friends at the National Review.

Jeb Bush, left, former President George H.W. Bush and President Obama

You can observe a lot just by watching, as Yogi Berra used to say. But sometimes that’s not enough.

Jeb and former President George H.W. Bush visited the White House the evening of Jan. 27, as portrayed above. We don’t know what they discussed with President Obama, but can suspect it wasn’t about carpet and drape sizes needed at the White House next January for a new era for the Bush Dynasty. Measures, as best as possible under the circumstances, seem already to be underway.

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