Readers have wondered when I might back off the hunch I voiced a year ago, and reiterated as recently as December, that Jeb Bush still could eventually win the presidency. Here goes:
Bush clearly no longer has a chance of winning the nomination. It is Ohio governor John Kasich who appears ready to seize the role of a plausible competitor to the eventual Democratic nominee. There appears to be almost no difference between the two men, except the heavy baggage connected with the former’s name. Kasich is running second to Donald Trump in New Hampshire in the polls.
Nobody said it would be easy, but the logic of Kasich’s candidacy is simple: if he polls strongly on February 9 in New Hampshire; if he gains enough traction in February to score some successes in the Super Tuesday primaries on March 1; if he wins Ohio’s winner-take-all primary on March 15; if he gains the nomination of the Republican Party at its convention in Cleveland in July – then he stands a good chance of being elected president in November.
Why? Because he is good at appealing to voters who consider themselves independent of either party’s establishment. And it takes 270 votes in the Electoral College to win the presidency. This useful interactive map depicts a stubborn fact of present-day US politics: under traditional scenarios, most states are virtually certain to wind up in one column or another.
Kasich would seem to be competitive with the Democratic nominee, whether it is Hillary Clinton or someone else, in all ten states that seem likely to be up for grabs in the fall – Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire. (Check out the other possible views of the map.)
I have been as surprised as everybody else by events of the last year. Let’s review:
It was barely a year ago that Mitt Romney announced that he was mulling a third presidential bid. The establishment wing of the Republican Party swiftly overruled him, indicating a preference for Jeb Bush, who in December 2014 had mentioned on his Facebook page that he was considering a run. Supposedly preemptive sums of money flowed to Bush’ s Super PAC, Right to Rise, run by political consultant Mike Murphy. Romney quickly steered off.
What happened next was that, completely unintimidated, fifteen other persons declared their candidacy for the Republican nomination, one after another, along with Bush : Ted Cruz (March 23), Rand Paul (April 7), Marco Rubio (April 13), Ben Carson (May 4), Carly Fiorina (May 4), Mike Huckabee (May 5), Rick Santorum (May 27), George Pataki (May 28), Lindsey Graham (June 1), Rick Perry (June 4), Bush (June 15), Donald Trump (June 16), Bobbie Jindal (June 24), Chris Christie (June 30), Scott Walker (July 13), Kasich (July 21), and Jim Gilmore (July 30).
Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy on April 13, Bernie Sanders on April 20, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on May 29, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on June 3. Sanders has recently swept ahead of Clinton in polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Why such pandemonium? The over-arching explanation seems to be Bush-Clinton fatigue. The prospect of choosing between representatives of two families whose members had been on the presidential ballot most years since 1988 seems to have unleashed torrents of discontent. Without a single vote being cast, real estate baron and reality-television star Trump vaulted to front-runner status in most polls of Republican voters. It’s getting a little late to explain US outcomes in terms of the aftermath of the 2007-09 financial crisis; Europe is another matter: most likely the Trump phenomenon is an expression of ephemeral contempt for dynastic politics.
Trump is not the first self-financed celebrity candidate to seek the presidency. He’s just the one with the fewest principles. Software entrepreneur H. Ross Perot ran as an independent candidate in 1992, upstaging incumbent George H. W. Bush and enabling Bill Clinton to win the presidency with just 43 percent of the vote (Perot received 19 percent and Bush 37 percent, but electoral vote totals were 370, 168, and 0.) Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is threatening to enter the race as an independent if Sanders gets the better of Hillary. An interesting questions have to do with Trump’s options once his star begins to fade. Eventually he presumably will become a commentator. Better for everyone if it were sooner rather than later.
Bush could do everyone a favor by quickly stepping out of the campaign if his New Hampshire totals are disappointing and urging his massive organization to support Kasich. As far as I can tell, his politics are very little different from those of the Ohio governor, except on foreign policy. Come to think of it, Bush would make a very good Secretary of State in a Kasich administration. The silly negative ads with which the two campaigns are attacking one another in the final days of New Hampshire should stop.
I have no idea how likely any of this might be. I do know an incredibly interesting political season looms. There is a real possibility that the election of a moderate Republican would be good for the country, mainly for the obvious reason: Kasich’s success would dampen the amplitude of extreme opinion on the right.
You might wonder, whence stems my license to pronounce on these matters? I have, after all, never covered a campaign. All I can say is that these arguments are deeply grounded in concern for economic affairs over the long run, and you will never hear them from my old friend and fellow economics columnist, Paul Krugman, of The New York Times. He thinks there are no moderates in the Republican Party primaries, and that even if there were, they wouldn’t stand a chance.