2016 — April 2, 2015 at 9:31 am

The GOP gets to choose between George W. Bush 2000 and George W. Bush 2004



The Republican Party is now engaged in a great battle of the spirit, according to The Daily Beast‘s Matt Lewis.

Lewis channels The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent to ask:

Will the Republican Party run for the White House in 2016 with a genuine effort to expand the party’s appeal beyond its core constituencies and make inroads with the voter groups that have buoyed Democrats in recent national elections? Or will Republicans mainly prioritize the need to further energize their core constituencies and hope they can continue outrunning demographic change?

The battle is typified by the approaches of the two men who have been at the top of the most recent GOP primary polls.

On one side is Jeb Bush who is “challenging the conservative base to be a more optimistic bigger tent” on his path to the White House. On the other is Scott Walker who trafficks in the pessimism that gets “disaffected white men” all hot and bothered. Lewis, who likes to win, thinks that Jeb “gets” what the party needs to do to take back the White House.

The difference between the two men have to be parsed into differences in optimism and pessimism — because there’s not much else that divides them. If anything, the former governor of Florida is more conservative than the current governor of Wisconsin.

Jeb Bush came out in favor of Indiana’s law permitting religious refusal then, when faced with a fierce backlash, he adopted soggier, more conciliatory rhetoric. But his apparent willingness to allow people to deny service to LGBTQ people is just a slice of bologna compared with his red meat opposition to same-sex marriage and adoption as governor.

On reproductive rights, Jeb makes W. look like Lena Dunham.

The Huffington Post‘s Laura Basset reported that Jeb called himself “probably the most pro-life governor in modern times,” which is like calling yourself “probably the best video game player in modern times.”

Like Walker, he opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest as governor. That’s a stand shared by only about one in five Americans, generally because most people wouldn’t have the stomach to aggressively “prevent a mentally disabled rape victim and a 13-year-old girl from being able to have abortions,” as Governor Jeb Bush did.

Now that he’s running for president, he’s supposedly for rape and incest protections. But what does it matter given that either Governor Walker I or Governor Bush II would certainly appoint the Justice who would be the deciding vote in overturning Roe v. Wade.

The two men have nearly identical stands on immigration, where they both support reform with the obligatory “but we must secure the border first” pap that ignores that the border has never been more secure.

Republicans are always looking for a Reagan, but this time they’re picking from two George W. Bushes. Jeb is W. from 2000 and Walker is W. version 2004.

In 2000, W. had the “new con” smell and campaigned as a “uniter, not a divider,” in case you didn’t you what a “uniter” was supposed to do. In 2004, he’d blown the surplus and was paying for two wars by trying to ban same-sex marriage. He could only run on fear and loathing.

Walker has won three state-wide elections impressively and all he has to show for it is a mounting deficit being paid for with education cuts and economy lagging behind his fiscally responsible neighbors. Walker can’t pretend to be the candidate who will grow the party, but he can run as the guy who takes the fights to the liberals and sits on a crown of their pointy skulls.

Neither of them has any foreign policy experience to speak of. Still Jeb has said he would not hesitate to start a “Third Bush War” in Iraq. Walker thinks he can beat ISIS with payouts and undermining their ability to collectively bargain. To reassure supporters, Walker is learning foreign policy in the exact same way from the exact same people as W. did.

On economic policy, Walker’s deficit-funded tax breaks for the rich are pure W. Meanwhile, Jeb is relying on the guys who told us tax cuts for the rich would fix everything then predicted massive inflation and death by Obamacare thereafter. (ICYMI: Inflation is still probably too low and we got the best year of job creation this century as Obamacare’s exchanges opened and taxes went up on the wealthy for the second year in a row.)

Being wrong about everything isn’t disqualifying in the modern Republican Party. It’s a requirement.

Jeb’s main argument is that he can win Florida, thus the presidency. But he isn’t blowing away his Republican competition yet. If he is the frontrunner, he’s the weakest GOP frontrunner in decades.

This isn’t because he’s not conservative enough on immigration or Common Core. Even Ted Cruz is in favor of some form of legalization for the undocumented and anyone who is voting based exclusively on Common Core is writing in Glenn Beck’s name in gold.

Bush is struggling because he hasn’t locked down the blue state Republicans who will decide the nomination, the 25 percent or so of the party who backed Romney the whole primary. They want to like him because they know their party hasn’t won without a Bush since the 70s. And for Jeb to lose would require a usurping of party power on par with what Barack Obama did to Hillary Clinton in 2008. And Scott Walker is no Barack Obama.

Republicans who identify with the establishment also know their party also has spent six years trying to hide George W. Bush. The idea of having to defend his economic and foreign policy record would give anyone gastrointestinal problems. Republicans still love the guy — he’s much more popular in the party than Jeb. They’re just sick of defending him.

In the end, any Republican nominee will embrace a strategy of wider outreach after the primary because they have to. Anyone who doesn’t think that Walker is able to do this ruthlessly hasn’t watched his canny and distasteful campaigning. And they’ll be better at it than Mitt Romney — who was always terrified that his pro-choice, Obamacare-creating past would catch up with him.

Democrats underestimated W. in 2000 and 2004. They shouldn’t make that mistake ever again. But now they have an advantage — we know what a disaster he was. His wreckage is the undertow of our lives.

Democrats have been running successfully against W. since 2006, and they’ll be doing it — the way they ran against Herbert Hoover over and over — until it doesn’t work. This is a necessity because they know the Democratic record isn’t impressive enough to guarantee a victory in 2016 — unless you compare it to W.’s.

Whether Jeb wins the nomination or not, Bush will be on the ballot.