23 February 2016

Why Jeb Bush Dropping Out and Trump's Ascent Shows Hope for the GOP

Jeb's failure and Donald's rise signals real hope for the Republican Party. And this is coming from a guy who thinks that Donald Trump is a nut, so let me explain.

The GOP primary is a contest for 2,470 delegates. Jeb Bush spent more than $150 million to win 4 of those delegates. That is 2/10th of 1% of the total, or about 0.4% of what he needed to win his party's nomination.

Through the end of January, Jeb and his Super Pacs had raised $155.6 million.

How much is that? Well, in 1992 his dad ran against Ross Perot (an outspoken, self-funded billionaire) and Bill Clinton. Between them, the three candidates spent $192 million. Yep. Jeb spent nearly as much to win 0.2% of the GOP primary as was spent in 1992 to win 100% of the general election.

The first bit of hope for the Republican Party lies in this fact: a ton of money from rich old white guys was not enough to win. Not even close. Money is in politics but it is not obviously a factor, at least in races with as much visibility as a presidential race.

The second bit of hope comes from the similarity to the 1992 election.

I think that 2016 could become just like 1992, a race featuring an establishment Republican, an out-spoken billionaire, and a Clinton. George H. Bush, Ross Perot and Bill Clinton in 1992 and Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton this year.

Why is that a source of hope? Ross Perot in the primary forced Bill Clinton to take on the deficit as a serious issue. Before that, Democrats had seemed to become uncaring about spending, unworried about deficits. To counter Perot's threat, Clinton was forced to change this. The result? Democrats went from mindless ideology to great policy. The economy thrived with policy that was at least partly a reaction to Perot.

Donald Trump - in a similar way - may force the Republicans to at least look at their foreign policy. He and Rand Paul are the only Republicans who see fit to point out the lunacy of the Bush / Cheney foreign policy. Trump represents something new. He's not interested in toppling regimes in the Middle East and then having to send in troops to prop up a besieged government. He doesn't pretend to know what is best for the Middle East but he knows that whatever is best, it doesn't involve our troops babysitting entire countries. One of the many ways in which the GOP became irrational under the Bush / Cheney administration is that they believed that US government programs here in the US cannot change people's lives but US government programs in foreign countries can. Trump suffers the boos to challenge this belief.

Trump could be to the Republican orthodoxy what Perot was to the Democrat ideology. As crazy as he sounds, Trump might force the GOP to inject a little reality into their ideology. This started with his taking down Jeb Bush from "sure thing" to mid-February dropout.

Contrary to what pundits are saying this week, Jeb did not represent the reasonable side of the GOP. He represented the Bush brand and that brand was seriously tarnished. In the eyes of Democrats, George W.'s policies blew up the Middle East and then the economy. It seems as though a number of Republicans agree. 

Here is what I wrote in late October about the fact that Bush was probably going to lose.

So why the big difference? Why is it that Bush - a brand name that has been hugely popular in the Republican Party for decades - has fallen out of favor and Clinton - another brand that has been popular for decades - is going strong?
It might be that the Republican Party is becoming more rational.
During Bill Clinton's time in office, the economy created 22.9 million jobs, the Dow rose 230%, and unemployment averaged 3.9% in his last full year in office. In his 8 years in office, he helped to turn a $290 billion deficit into a $236 billion surplus.Unsurprisingly, he left office with a 66% approval rating. That brand - the Clinton name - is pretty good.
During George W. Bush's time in office, the economy created 2.6 million jobs (around 1/10th the number created during Clinton's administration), the Dow fell 26%, and unemployment averaged 7.3% his last year in office. (It averaged 9.9% the year he left office in January.) In his 8 years in office, he turned a $236 billion surplus into a $458 billion deficit. And this litany of issues doesn't even include the two wars funded with a tax cut that resulted in thousands dead and millions displaced. Unsurprisingly, he left office with a 34% approval rating, a rating about half what Clinton had. That brand - the Bush brand - is pretty tarnished.
Shocked that the country re-elected George W., I just assumed that Republicans were irrational enough to try this Bush brand one more time. Turns out, they deserve more credit than that. It looks like Jeb's sure thing no longer is. And that, it seems to me - for whatever you think of Trump or Rubio, is progress. Jeb's fall is not really his ... it is a natural consequence of his big brother's fall.

Donald, by contrast, is beholden to no one. He doesn't seem to care much about traditional GOP ideology. Or, at least, 21st century GOP ideology. 

His personality and policies are repugnant but in order to blow things up, you can't be a shrinking violet. It might even be that Donald simply has an insatiable appetite for media attention. It's not enough for him to be the front-runner who wins all of the delegates from the South Carolina primary. In that same week he has to hijack Jeb Bush's website and trade barbs with the pope. His candidacy might simply be a symptom of his idiot savant media savvy coupled with a lack of respect for social norms. He deserves all of the criticism he gets and yet who else would be able to shock the Republican Party out of its oddly ungrounded claims ("George W. kept us safe," and "This economy is a disaster and we need to return it to what it was under Republican rule."). If any individual were to so blithely and confidently ignore things like 4.9% unemployment or data showing global warming, they'd be considered dangerous. If a party does that, it's just considered ideology. 

And while Donald has many cognitive flaws, he's not wed to an ideology, particularly the ideology that has handcuffed a generation of GOP candidates. Whatever works to get votes is what he approves of. When he heard that the pope had commented about him, Donald honestly said, "What did he say? If he said something nice about me, I like him. If he said something mean about me, I don't." Donald discards decorum for what works and this is just what the GOP needs right now.

I don't think that Donald will win the general and I rather doubt that he'll even win the GOP primary. (You might reasonably attribute that to hope.) I do think that he'll change the Republican Party. And that is a good thing.

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