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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bush and Grant

Jay Cost compares Jeb Bush to US Grant.  At the 1880 GOP convention, 306 delegates backed him for a third term.
To be clear: the Bushes certainly are not spoilsmen. They play politics with sharp elbows, just like anybody else at that level, but the Bush ethos of civic duty places them far above the grubby pay-to-play politics of the Gilded Age. And yet there is today a class of professional politicians -- a modern group of consultants, advisors, donors, lobbyists etc. -- who prospered under 12 years of Bush presidencies. They are eager for a Bush restoration in 2016, just as the Stalwarts were clamoring for a return to Grantism in 1880.
Meanwhile, the broader GOP electorate seems wary, at best. At this point in the 2000 cycle, George W. Bush was polling upwards of 40 percent nationwide. By the end of 1999 it would rise to 60 percent. According to RCP, Jeb currently is clocking in under 15 percent -- even though he is at least as well known now as his brother was in early 1999. There is clearly a hesitancy among the rest of the party -- i.e. those who do not draw a living from politics -- for a Bush restoration.
This points to Jeb’s big challenge. He might be able to attract his own version of the “Immortal 306,” corralling a sizeable portion of the GOP’s professional class, but as Grant’s experience in 1880 illustrates, that is not enough. One has to make a broader offer to the party. In 1880, Grant failed to do that. The logic of a Grant restoration made little sense that year -- at least to those who did not draw a living from politics. Hence, he never made it past those core supporters. The country, and for that matter much of the Republican party, had moved on. So Grant lost.