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“The Inevitable Questions”: Jeb Bush And The Two Types Of Electability Arguments

Not that it matters much now, with all the fascinating campaigning still to come, but I still think that Jeb Bush is the most likely Republican nominee, for reasons I outlined here. Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal, however, says that one of the cornerstones of Jeb’s appeal to Republican primary voters—that he’s the electable candidate—isn’t something they’re buying, partly because there isn’t a whole lot of evidence for it, other than the fact that Jeb is the kind of candidate who would seem to be more able to appeal to a general electorate. Ed Kilgore follows up:

Electability is supposed to be the Republican Establishment’s ace-in-the-hole, the argument carefully conveyed over time that wears down “the base’s” natural desire for a True Conservative fire-breather. In your head you know he’s right is the not-so-subtle message. But Jeb’s electability credentials are as baffling to regular GOP voters as they are obvious and unimpeachable to elites. And unless Jeb’s backers can supply some more convincing evidence than “trust [us] on this,” these doubts may never be quelled, particularly when you’ve got somebody in the field like Scott Walker who can boast of three wins in four years in a state carried twice by Obama—and without compromising with the godless liberals like Jeb wants to do.

Looking at it more generally, the jury is out as to whether the appropriate precedent for Jeb is somebody like Mitt Romney, who gradually won over intraparty skeptics by dint of money, opportunism, and a ruthless ability to exploit rivals’ vulnerability, or somebody like Rudy Giuliani, a guy who looked great until actual voters weighed in. And even that contrast may not capture Jeb’s problem: Rudy did well in early polls.

To the extent that Jeb does ultimately rely on an electability argument, he’s in danger of resembling a much earlier precedent: Nelson Rockefeller in 1968, whose late push to displace Richard Nixon was instantly destroyed by polls showing him performing more weakly than Tricky Dick in a general election. That’s actually where Jeb is right now. Unless and until his general election numbers turn around, and he’s running better against Clinton than anybody else, it’s going to be tough for him. All the money and opinion-leader endorsements and MSM adulation in the world cannot win the nomination for a candidate unless these resources at some point begin to translate into actual votes by actual voters. If they don’t like Jeb to begin with and think he’s a loser to boot, that may never happen.

Here’s the thing about electability: If you’re making an electability argument based on type, it’s probably full of holes, whereas if you’re making the argument based on this particular individual, it stands a better chance of being true. To take just one example, in 2008 there would have been a lot of good arguments for why a candidate like Barack Obama was unelectable. A senator hadn’t become president since John F. Kennedy, Obama only had a few years in office, he was young, and, oh yeah, he was black. But all of those were reasons why a candidate like Barack Obama wasn’t electable. That particular Barack Obama, however, turned out to be extremely electable.

There’s an anti-Jeb electability argument based on someone like Jeb, which says that when the GOP has nominated moderates it has lost, but when it has nominated conservatives it has won. This is basically Ted Cruz’s argument, and it’s true in some ways but very wrong in others. The anti-Jeb electability arguments based on this particular Jeb, especially the fact that his last name creates problems that Walker or Rubio wouldn’t have, are much more persuasive.

The electability debate figures into every primary campaign at some point, and there may be other ways in which Jeb can argue that he’s really the electable one. I still think that he’s more Romney than Giuliani, but this is obviously something he’s going to have to spend some time thinking about so he’s ready to answer the inevitable questions he’ll get from voters about it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 25, 2015

March 26, 2015 - Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , ,

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