Littwin: Jeb!’s tripping over more than the Bush family name

Jeb Bush

After watching the big Jeb! announcement, all I could think of was that Hillary Clinton must be ecstatic.

Come on. Who else would she rather run against — I mean, other than Lindsey Graham or Ted Cruz? Or Ben Carson or Mike Huckabee? Or Chris Christie or Bobby Jindal?

Jeb! has a lot of things going for him. Running in another time in another race, he might make a formidable candidate. But in this race? Let’s count the ways he wouldn’t be formidable, or anything like it. He can’t make the generational argument, he can’t make the dynasty argument, he can’t make the Clinton-fatigue argument.

Strike three?

I’ll just put it out there. I haven’t seen the polling, but there can’t be many people who don’t see Bush fatigue as equaling, and probably trumping, the Clinton kind.

Jeb!’s rocky pre-announcement roll-out was all about his inability to answer the most obvious question about his brother’s war. It took Jeb! four days to figure out to say something about Iraq. Wait till they ask him about his brother’s economic collapse. It’s going to get harder.

Suddenly, Jeb!’s lead in the early polls disappeared, and people started wondering if he really is the smarter brother (he really is; he even likes nuance and reads policy papers for fun). And now many of the establishment types who were pulling for Jeb! to run are wondering if there isn’t a better choice among the many other dozens running.

[pullquote]“In this country of ours the most improbable things can happen. Take that from a guy who met his first president on the day he was born and his second on the day he was brought home from the hospital.”[/pullquote]

If Jeb! were to be the nominee – and he might well be — he’d allow Clinton to dodge most of her perceived weaknesses. If we ever found out that Jeb! had sometimes used a private email account when he was governor … Oh, wait, he did?

If we found out that Jeb! once gave Hillary a medal or something … Oh, wait, it’s all over the conservative Internet?

You’d have to think that the GOP establishment, so hungry for victory, would know better than to nominate a Bush – who would be the third consecutive Republican president named Bush — to run against a Clinton, who, you know, is just related by marriage.

You’d think that until you recalled that the last Republican nominee was Mitt Romney. Yes, the man who invented Romneycare was the one they picked to run against the man who invented Obamacare.

And now, Jeb!?

As I may have mentioned before, a Clinton-Bush Redux race would be a great failure of the American imagination. And since Hillary is a lock to win, that means that Republicans are the only ones who can save the country from the embarrassment.

I think Jeb! understands.

If you watched his roll-out, you saw his reluctance to mention the family name. Finally, when he got around to mentioning his father and brother, it didn’t quite come out right. In this country of ours,” he said, “the most improbable things can happen. Take that from a guy who met his first president on the day he was born and his second on the day he was brought home from the hospital.

So, it’s just another great improbable American story? Actually Jeb! used it to introduce the most popular Bush, his mother, the one who said, in an earlier moment of truth, that there had already been “enough Bushes” as president. When Jeb! semi-announced, she stepped away from that, but the point didn’t go away.

Jeb! tried to reframe the whole question right from the top of his speech when he said the “presidency should not be passed from one liberal to the next.” And while certainly most Republicans see it that way, he may not be the best one to talk about passing the torch, whether it’s from Obama to Clinton or Clinton to Clinton.

The strange early polling — in some polls, the GOP leader is at 11 or 12 percent — is bad for Jeb! It gives everyone hope, including heady poll-runners like Carson and Huckabee. And it raises doubts. According to the insiders, Jeb! has a plan. If Jeb!’s PAC is not raising quite as much money as predicted, it’s money enough. And the word is that he’ll use that money this summer to hit Marco Rubio, his one-time protege, and Scott Walker, who generally rank with Bush as the early favorites. But with so many candidates running, the fire is going to come from all angles, and though Bush may have the money, a lot of the billionaires not on his side will soon be taking aim.

I think Rubio is the strongest candidate on paper, if Republicans go with the same kind of paper that Democrats did in 2008. Walker was another early poll leader who has fallen back to the pack. The polls certainly don’t mean much, if anything, now, but what the polls do suggest is that Jeb! is underperforming. According to Nate Cohn at the New York Times, he’s really underperforming with moderates, who should be his strength.

And if Jeb! isn’t the clear front-runner and the obvious person to take on Hillary Clinton, then what is he, other than just one more Bush?