Why the GOP needs Jeb — right now

December 6, 2012

Sometimes a man and a moment meet. That man is Jeb Bush. That moment is now.


Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

As we wrote on Wednesday, the Republican Party is largely leaderless at the moment -- drifting as it seeks some sort of new (or new-ish) direction to head on fiscal cliff and immigration, among other other issues.

The only person capable of herding the party not only in a unified direction but also a direction that can solve (or at least address) the GOP's issues -- demographic and otherwise -- is the former governor of Florida.

That doesn't mean that Bush, who is widely speculated as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, needs to decide whether or not he wants to run for president today -- or even in the next year. What it does mean is that Bush could take a few concrete steps in the next few months to help rally a dispirited party regardless of whether he ultimately wants to lead it.

A few thoughts:

1. Speak out forcefully on the fiscal cliff. The problem for Republicans at the moment is that they are suffering a death of 1,000 cuts on the issue. Every day it seems like some member or other breaks with party orthodoxy -- in a variety of different ways -- on the fiscal cliff. What the party needs is a lead voice to simply choose a strategic path and rally people behind it.  That could be Bush. To date he has been quiet on the right way forward for his party on the cliff, but even a single statement with some guidance for his side would likely have major influence. If Bush really wanted to wade in, he could meet with House and Senate leaders on Capitol Hill to help them strategize.

2. Organize/headline a series of immigration forums around the country: There is no more pressing electoral problem for Republicans than the party's seeming inability to make any real inroads in the Hispanic community. Republicans have to show that they are more than the party of self-deportation and border fences, and the best way to do that is to show up in Hispanic communities with GOP politicians who get that. Bush won nearly half of the Hispanic vote in his 1998 reelection governor, a rare instance of a Republican showing strength in that community. Imagine Bush, Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval doing a series of immigration events in Latino-areas around the country. It would draw huge amounts of press attention and maybe, just maybe, convince some Latino voters to give Republicans a second look.

3. Lay out a new Republican agenda: At the moment, the Republican Party is suffering from an ideas deficit. (That's not new; remember that before Bill Clinton arrived on the national political scene in 1991, Democrats were widely seen to be devoid of any new ideas.) Bush has never had trouble on the ideas front -- he LOVES policy and seems to hate politics -- so now is the time to pick a few issues. Education is an obvious starting point since it has long been a pet issue for the former governor. He could deliver major speeches every few months at places like the American Enterprise Institute or the Brookings Institute. There's little doubt other 2016 wannabes -- Rubio, Rep. Paul Ryan and so on and so forth -- would follow suit, and it would result in a cavalcade of proposals that would help the party chip away at the "no new ideas" attack.

4. Find a "Sister Souljah" moment: Almost no one in the party other than Bush could pull off a direct confrontation with the GOP's tea party base. But, there's little doubt that for the party to move to a place where it can win a national election, the base of the party must be brought into line and made to understand that being right is nice but being victorious is better. The most obvious place for Bush to break with the base is on immigration -- a place where he has already pushed aggressively for the party to rethink its approach and where his brother (aka the former President of the United States) has signaled that a change is necessary. If Jeb went big on immigration reform with a sort of base-be-damned strategy, he'd be doing the party a major favor and providing cover to lots and lots of Republicans who know they need to get on the right side of the issue but live in fear of angering the base.

Will Bush do any/all of these things? Who knows. He has met with his former political aides and done nothing to knock down the idea that he wants to re-enter the national conversation in a real way.

And his party needs him to do just that -- the sooner the better.

Geithner says GOP must choose tax hikes or going off the cliff: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Wednesday that the administration is prepared to go over the "fiscal cliff" if Republicans don't agree to raising tax rates on the top 2 percent of earners.

Asked that question directly by CNBC, Geithner said, "Oh, absolutely."

"We see no prospect for an agreement that doesn't involve those rates going up on the top 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans," Geithner said.

The administration seems to be getting firmer on this point, and it marks one of the few times that a high-level Democrat has broached the idea that they might simply allow the country to go off the fiscal cliff if they don't get the right deal. 

Fixbits:

Another poll suggests Democrats have the upper hand when it comes to the fiscal cliff.

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke by phone Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says 'no' to raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, as Republicans have suggested.

A new poll from Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling shows First Lady Michelle Obama would beat Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in 2016 matchup, 50 percent to 41 percent.

Must-reads:

"Democrats to Obamaland: Share your data" -- Lois Romano, Politico

"The Tea Party Purge of 2012" -- David Weigel, Slate

"Hispanic campaign donors look for new ways to flex their political muscle" -- Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

"Boehner Gains Strong Backing From House Republicans" -- Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times

"More Redistricting Ahead in Texas, Maybe Florida" -- Shira Toeplitz, Roll Call

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Sean Sullivan · December 5, 2012