Republicans beware of Bush nostalgia
BY: W. James Antle III June 4, 2015 | 12:01 am
The polls are starting to look good for Bush. No, not Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is all but running for president. That’s former President George W. Bush.
In case you missed this news as much as you miss the 43rd president of the United States, a CNN poll found that he is viewed more favorably than either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. It is the first time in years a majority of Americans has held such a favorable view of “Dubya.”
Specifically, 52 percent held a favorable opinion of Bush to just 43 percent whose views were unfavorable. On President Obama, respondents were deadlocked at 49 percent apiece.
Half the country viewed Clinton, the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, unfavorably. Only 46 percent were favorable. Clinton’s favorability numbers were the worst they had been since 2001.
That’s not all. A Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll found that 57 percent of Iowa Republicans thought it would be a good thing if the former president advised his brother Jeb in the White House, suggesting Bush 43 might actually be an asset to his White House-seeking sibling.
Why not cut out the middle man, repeal the 22nd amendment and just go with the original article? George W. Bush, tanned, rested and ready. At least we can erect some more “Miss me yet?” billboards.
Let’s not get carried away. Bush nostalgia is the surest way for Republicans to throw away what should be a winnable election against a thoroughly unappealing candidate.
First, this Bush renaissance should be kept in perspective. The former president has mostly kept quiet since leaving office, popping up to give charming interviews or to show off the occasional painting. Obama is in office pursuing unpopular policies right now, while Clinton is vying for the right to do so.
Even though Team Hillary has engaged in a virtual media blackout, making Orwellian statements about speeches now counting as interviews, her scandals and controversies remain in the public spotlight each day. The elder Bush brother is mostly out of the headlines.
When it comes to former presidents and old flames, absence makes the heart grow fonder. In the CNN/ORC poll, family patriarch George H.W. Bush is viewed favorably by 64 percent and unfavorably by just 30 percent.
This is a fellow who raised taxes, presided over a recession and received just 37.5 percent of the vote in his reelection bid, the Republicans’ lowest percentage of the popular vote since Alf Landon in 1936 and the worst showing by an incumbent president since William Howard Taft in 1912. Yet he’s still more popular than his son.
Another one-term ex-president with better poll numbers is Jimmy Carter. Still considered the epitome of White House failure, Carter is viewed favorably by 56 percent to 30 percent. Surprisingly, 6 percent say they have never heard of him.
Bill Clinton is viewed most favorably of all, which could prove more relevant to the 2016 presidential election. Fully 64 percent have a favorable view of him. And in the Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll, 83 percent of Iowa Democrats think he’d be a good adviser to Hillary.
To put it another way, 33 percent of Iowa Republicans don’t want Dubya to darken a President Jeb Bush’s door. Only 9 percent of Iowa Democrats feel that way about Bill advising Hillary.
The quickest way for George W. Bush to lose the popularity he has recently reacquired would be for him to come out of the woodwork and remind voters why they turned against him in the first place. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that Americans voters thought the Iraq war was a mistake by 59 percent to 32 percent. Only Republicans disagreed, not a very good way to head into the election season.
Re-litigating past Bush and Clinton presidencies won’t do the GOP any favors. Voters may contrast the 1990s Internet boom with the 2007–08 financial crisis, the $128 billion surplus that turned into a $455 billion deficit, welfare reform versus No Child Left Behind. Conservatives may even recall that discretionary spending grew faster under Bush than Clinton, and the former creating the biggest new entitlement since the Great Society.
More to the point, why look back at all? For the first time in years, Republicans have the chance to nominate a younger and fresher candidate than the Democrats. Harkening back to the Bushes is a good way to blow it.
The polling — CNN/ORC, again — bears this out. Sixty-four percent view Jeb Bush, to say nothing of George W., as representing the past. Majorities say Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Scott Walker represent the future.
George W. Bush could perhaps teach Republicans a thing or two about reaching out to Hispanic voters or presenting social conservatism in an attractive, nonjudgmental way (at least until he became a culture war symbol in his own right).
But sometimes, it’s better to let sleeping Bushes lie.