It has been 22 years since a Clinton faced off against a Bush. Will it happen again in 2016? In the parlance of “Game of Thrones,” will House Clinton and House Bush vie for a return to power?
There have been only six years since 1989 -- the Obama years -- when the American president’s last name was not Clinton or Bush. And, during four of those six years, Hillary Rodham Clinton was prominent in the headlines as secretary of State. Bushes and Clintons have been permanent fixtures in the political landscape. Now, with numerous nascent campaigns already revving their engines long before the start of the 2016 race for the White House, the widely held assumption is that Hillary will not only run, but that she will easily become the Democratic nominee with an inside track at becoming the first female president of the United States.
Much of that expectation rests on the strong possibility that the militant base of the GOP will choose from among the contenders a candidate who is too extreme for the American electorate. That is the Democrats’ fondest hope. Their biggest worry is that Republicans will, instead, experience a moment of sanity and choose Jeb Bush.
The prospects for another Bush presidency seemed slight when Jeb’s brother left office in 2009 after an embarrassingly bad eight years, but public opinion about George W. has grown less harsh with the passage of time. No longer a figure who inspires passionate loathing, he seems merely a congenial fellow who should have pursued his amateur painting career instead of trying to run the world. Jeb, on the other hand, looks like the smarter and more genuinely compassionate conservative in the family.
That compassion came through loud and clear in remarks on Sunday in which he said many immigrants cross the border illegally as “an act of love” in support of their needy families. In reaction, fake conservative commentator Stephen Colbert joked that Bush “will be missed,” given that empathy for undocumented immigrants is anathema to the GOP hard-liners who dominate the primaries. Real conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, speculated that Bush was being clever, picking a fight with right-wingers simply to get the inevitable clash out of the way before campaigning begins in earnest.
The “act of love” comment, Limbaugh said on his radio program, is “designed to tick us all off or tick the tea party people off now. Get it done with and over with and then out of the way, and move on.”
Whether he sought a fight or not, Bush certainly knew his comment would not go unnoticed. He had openly discussed a run for the nomination only days before. Taking a more liberal stance on immigration with such bold language was not a gaffe. It was positioning.
Not everyone believes that it was smart positioning. On Fox News, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called Bush’s comment “bizarre” and said it would come back to haunt him. In a discussion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said he was so sure Bush would never be the nominee that he promised everyone on the panel a good dinner in New York City if he were proved wrong. Kristol’s prediction may be excellent news for Bush because, as one Daily Kos columnist noted, Kristol has a notoriously bad track record as a political prognosticator.
Of course, nobody can claim to have all the answers at this point in the long slog toward the 2016 election. Perhaps, though, we know the most pertinent question: Have Americans had enough of the Bush and Clinton families or are they ready for a battle of dynasties?