The cast of 2012 Republican presidential candidates is nearly complete. And it’s mighty slim pickings. There’s not a person in the field who Barack Obama — for all his shortcomings, failures, and sagging popularity — couldn’t beat by ten points. And there are a few that he would beat by twenty.
Already, I hear conservative talk show hosts wishing they could build a Frankenstein monster — taking a part from each of the candidates to build the perfect and unbeatable candidate.
Mitt Romney’s resume and business experience. Sarah Palin’s electricity and ability to relate to everyday Americans. Michele Bachmann’s plainspoken passion for conservatism. Newt Gingrich’s intelligence and debate skills, and so on.
But there’s no need to build that person. He already exists. And he’s the one Republican who could shake up this race and put Obama’s reelection in jeopardy: Jeb Bush.
The former two-term Florida governor has made it clear that he is not interested in running for president next year, which only fueled speculation among supporters and pundits that he is waiting until 2016 when Obama will be out of the picture with no heir apparent waiting in the wings. You can see why Bush would want to wait, and avoid a shootout with Obama who, for all his other flaws, is an exceptional campaigner.
And yet, given how weak the Republican bench looks at the moment, Republicans can’t be blamed for not giving up on the idea of recruiting Bush to run.
This is how bad things are on the right: The people that Republican voters tell pollsters they would be interested in supporting for president aren’t interested in the job. Besides Bush, there’s New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also says he is not planning to run next year. And then there’s Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is also sitting out this dance.
Then there is Rudy Giuliani. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll finds the former New York City mayor — who doesn’t seem to be running but hasn’t closed the door — leading the pack of possible GOP candidates with the support of 16 percent of respondents. Mitt Romney got 15 percent. Sarah Palin got 13 percent.
Here’s a bigger problem. No matter what name you throw out there, the result is an enthusiasm gap. Even those who say they would support Romney, Palin, or another GOP hopeful aren’t excited about the possibility that their choice could be elected president. That could be a recipe for low voter turnout.
All the more reason that Jeb Bush should reconsider his decision to stay out of the fray next year, and jump in.
Just two and a half years ago, the conventional thinking was that the Bush brand had been tarnished by George W.’s less-than-stellar second term. But something has happened since then: The Obama administration. And now the hot items at political novelty stores are cups and t-shirts with pictures of a smiling “W” asking: “Miss Me Yet?”
Some Republicans might be ready for a Bush do-over, and Jeb Bush could benefit from that. He is a unifier who knows how to work with Democrats, a pragmatist who is not afraid to try new approaches to tackling stubborn policy issues, and a brainy student of politics who does his homework.
And there’s one more thing — which happens to be no small item at a time when many Republicans are repelling Latino voters by word and deed: Jeb Bush has mastered the art of reaching out to Latinos. A fluent Spanish speaker who is married to a Latina, Bush received — in his 1998 election and 2004 re-election as Florida governor — as much as 60 percent of the Hispanic vote. That was better than big brother did with Hispanic voters while running for governor of Texas. That could be a game changer in 2012, if Bush were the GOP presidential nominee, especially since Obama is hemorrhaging Latino support due to his clumsy handling of the immigration issue.
Of course, there is a downside. As Bush is probably well aware, mending fences with Latinos doesn’t just mean staking out moderate views on immigration. That’s the easy part. It also means not being afraid to call out and criticize fellow Republicans like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry who are all taking the wrong road on immigration. And yet, if Bush sits out the debate altogether to avoid that confrontation, then he might find that — by the time he’s ready to run for president in 2016 — few very Latinos are willing to vote for any Republican for president, including him. So there’s no advantage to waiting.
How about it, Jeb? Jump in. Your party needs you. And your country needs you even more.