“He’s going to have a very tight rope to walk to be seen as his own man,” Ron Christie, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, tells TheWrap
Jeb Bush announced his presidential run on Monday, the latest high-profile Republican to join an increasingly large field of conservatives looking to break the Democrats’ eight-year control of the White House.
But as the media will continually remind him, the former Florida governor faces a challenger none of his foes will have to confront.
“I believe the media coverage, first and foremost, will focus on the last name,” Ron Christie, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, told TheWrap.
“If his last name was Jeb Smith, I think there’d be a lot more excitement and a lot more buzz about his candidacy. But given that his last name is Bush … he’s going to have a very tight rope to walk to be seen as his own man … which is going to be really, really difficult for him to do.”
Right on schedule, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz proved Christie right during a CNN interview on Monday. In just over two minutes, the Florida Congresswoman evoked big brother George W. in her condemnation of Jeb’s policies.
“He’s talked about being his own man and being different than President George W. Bush,” she said. “We’ve already seen what a Bush economy looks like. Jeb would double down on that economy.”
Hillary Clinton, the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, will of course have her own family ties to resolve, chiefly her husband’s presidency and the scandal that nearly ended it in turmoil.
On whether Hillary or Jeb will face the bigger media millstone, one expert points to the historical records.
“The public tends to associate Bill Clinton with prosperity and W. with hard economic times,” Mark Feldstein, professor of broadcast journalism at University of Maryland, told TheWrap. “George W. Bush still remains a real albatross around Jeb’s neck and that’s probably not going to change hugely. And yet he doesn’t want to lose those supporters or be disrespectful to his brother.”
The tensions between his political ambitions and his bloodline pose a tricky balancing act for Jeb, one he’s already flubbed in his first chance to distinguish himself from his brother, Feldstein noted.
“He blew the easy part,” Feldstein said, referring to Jeb’s now infamous gaffe during an interview last month with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who asked whether he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 had he known then what we all know now concerning the absence of weapons of mass destruction that formed the justification for war in the first place.
“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,” Bush said, adding that if the world is looking for points of distinction between him and his older brother, Iraq isn’t one of them.
The backlash was immediate, with Bush getting panned across the media and political spectrum for seemingly doubling down on the dubious rationale for war.
Jeb Bush clarified his position days later, saying that he wouldn’t invade, but a “not ready for primetime” media meme flourished, one from which he hopes to bounce back as he begins an “I’m my own man” campaign.
But the media shouldn’t give Bush’s brotherly love a pass, one veteran Democratic strategist told TheWrap.
“So far the media coverage of Jeb has been superficial at best,” Christopher Hahn, radio host and former aide to Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, told TheWrap. “They have allowed him to distance himself from his brother’s failed policies without out ever asking the tough questions about who he would surround himself with if he were to be elected.”
With media coverage stretched to include almost 20 Republicans vying for the nomination, Hahn suggests that the Fourth Estate pose difficult questions instead of “eating the typical campaign tripe they have been fed.”
No matter the number of challengers Jeb Bush faces, the juiciest narrative the media wants to snack on is the gargantuan W. looming over Jeb’s head.
How loyally — or surprisingly — the younger Bush responds might determine whether he pulls off Bush 3.0 … or ends the Bush dynasty once and for all.