georgebushDave Schuler believes that, without a doubt, that George H Bush is our greatest living former president. A poll from last summer just about agrees, giving Bill Clinton higher approval but also higher disapproval. I am inclined to agree as well.

Bush the Elder is getting more elderly. He turns 91 in a few months. Reagan and Ford lived to be 93, so he’s not exactly living on borrowed time. But he’s not looking really good, either.

In case you may not be away, his son Jeb is all-but-running for president. I am, personally, rather bearish on Jeb’s odds of becoming president. I am honestly not that bullish on his odds of even getting the Republican nomination. I know, I know, the GOP always dates the radicals and marries the establishmentarian, but this time feels different. More or less from the moment Huckabee announced he wasn’t going to run in 2012, I believed the nomination was Romney’s. I don’t feel that way about Jeb. He seems extremely out of touch about how out of touch he is with the party. He’s just proven to be a lackluster candidate so far, and this time around there are other options. I think he has a better chance than any other individual candidate, but if I were betting for or against him, I’d bet (lightly) against him.

JebUnless, that is, his father dies sometime between now and then. Which gets me to the point of this post. His father is somebody that it’s become kind of hard to say much negative about, generally speaking. Republicans see him as one of their own and from the Reagan era at that. Democrats see him as fundamentally different from the current lot of Republicans. It’s considered poor taste to speak ill of the just dead, but I think there will be less tongue-biting.

Which makes his father’s death, if it occurs between now and next November, a potentially important thing.

If it occurs during primary season, it could really give Jeb a boost. He may only need a boost. Just a bit of separation between him and everybody else. Rubio’s funding could then dry up. People looking for alternatives may stop looking. Then we may see a 1-on-1 race between Jeb and Walker or Jeb and Perry with the full weight of the Republican establishment squarely behind the son of the fallen hero.

If that doesn’t happen, and if Jeb wins the nomination, it could be salient in the general election, too. It’s become fashionable to view voters as these immovable objects who don’t respond to anything, but I don’t think that’s particularly true. There may not be as many independents and swing voters as there used to be, but they exist, they exist right on the margin, and their vote counts twice if they switch (-1 for the person they’re switching from, and +1 for the person they’re switching to). If it’s close, and it could be, it could help Jeb. Not only because Bush the Elder is his father, but because one of Jeb’s faults is that it feels like he’s running a 90’s campaign on the teen decade and though he physically takes after his mother, there does seem to be more of his father in him than there was in George W. It could also help reorient “The Bush Connection” away from the most unpopular living former president towards the least unpopular recently living president.


Category: Statehouse

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11 Responses to A Dark Calculation

  1. Peter says:

    Jimmy Carter also has gotten praise for a successful ex-presidency, with his human rights advocacy and election monitoring. Though he’s had the advantage of time: at 34 years and counting, Carter has been a former president for longer than anyone else. He passed Herbert Hoover a couple years ago to claim first place.

    Not counting those who died in office, James Knox Polk had the shortest ex-presidency at about eight months. Though if Lyndon Johnson had run for a full second term in 1968 and won, he would have been a former president for less than 48 hours.

    • trumwill says:

      I think that was true of Carter for about twenty years, but when he started dipping his toe back in politics in the late 90’s, he started becoming more controversial.

    • Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

      1) Carter was the inspiration for D. Wire Newman on The West Wing.

      2) After LBJ’s death, there were no former living US presidents until Nixon’s resignation a year and a half later.

  2. Chris says:

    I wouldn’t consider him the greatest living president, but he is the last president about whom it’s possible to get a largely (though certainly not entirely) non-partisan opinion (I’m actually not sure that’s possible with Carter, even). Clinton, Bush, and Obama, and I imagine whoever succeeds him (and, I suspect, whoever succeeds that one, and whoever succeeds the one who succeeds that one) have presided over a period in U.S. history when it’s become increasingly difficult to evaluate anyone or anything without partisan lenses on. In that respect, I miss the first Bush years. Also, because those years saw the peak of Pixies creativity.

    • trumwill says:

      He was the last president before the cold war realignment. I suspect the next last president before the next realignment will also get some love.

    • Peter says:

      He is a more polarizing figure, but there is a not-unwarranted view of Bill Clinton’s presidency as a Golden Age. The economy improved almost nonstop during his terms, with unemployment falling to levels that may never be seen again. People felt financially sound and prosperous. The Internet seemed to be ready to transform our economic system but without being a job destroyer. By his second term it was obvious that crime rates were plummeting. Finally, the nation was no longer at (cold) war with Communism but was not yet at war with Islam.

      • trumwill says:

        If Paul Tsongas had been elected, he would probably have his face on currency and DCA named after him before his vice president completed his term.

        Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one.

        • Peter says:

          If Tsongas had been elected in 1992,given the course of his illness he almost surely would have declined to run for a second term in 1996. He might have resigned, but it’s also entirely possible that he would have tried to make it through until his successor’s inauguration. Late 1996 and early 1997 was a placid time period with no real crises placing a high demand on a president’s attention.
          If Tsongas indeed had stayed in office, whoever was his vice president would have served as president for literally two days.

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