Jeb Bush: Campaign of ‘Shock and Awe’ or ‘Aw Shucks’?

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

A report suggests that while Jeb Bush was deliberately keeping a low political profile during the last two years, he was actually busy planning the equivalent of a “shock and awe” campaign to win the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 in the event he opted to run.

That would help explain headlines which claim Jeb might have been able to raise as much as $4 million on Wednesday in Chicago.

So while even close Bush watchers began to doubt whether he was really serious about running, he and a close-knit group of advisers were following a careful plan aimed at maximizing his chances of winning the nomination, if and when he gave the thumbs-up.

Their strategy was to publicly downplay his interest in the race and avoid media attention, while quietly laying the groundwork for a launch that would catch much of Washington — and many of his potential rivals — flat-footed. While the much of the political world focused on Chris Christie, Rand Paul and even Bush’s fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, Bush was quietly collecting political chits, developing a cohesive platform, and preparing for a fundraising blitz intended to grab the front-runner’s chair, scare potential competitors like Mitt Romney and Christie, and put Bush on such a firm financial footing that he could devote more time to retail politics when it really counted.

But that’s not the whole story, either. Take, for instance, his messaging: Jeb is telling anyone who will listen, he is not his brother, former president George W. Bush. “I love my father and my brother… but I am my own man.”

That sounds nice, but it doesn’t hold up to another headline, also on Wednesday, that has Jeb basically signing on most of his brother’s foreign policy team, and even some of his father’s team. Some would say the contrast is more ‘aw shucks’ than ‘shock and awe.’ So just how solid was all this supposed pre-planning?

If Bush’s goal is to present himself as his “own man,” that list of advisers undermines the point somewhat: 19 of the 21 people on it worked in the administrations of his father or brother. We’ve identified the roles each played in the past three Republican administrations, divvying them up as needed in the following Venn diagram.

Policy-wise, the headlines in and around his first foreign policy address are not very kind. Jeb may very well have his hands in the pockets of Wall Street and some other major donors thanks to his family connections. But he has yet to demonstrate any ability to seriously connect with the Republicans grassroots—and more conservative—base. Yes, that’s a recipe to raise a lot of money, just as John McCain and Mitt Romney did before Jeb.

But the GOP’s failure to understand, or perhaps accept the need for a genuinely engaged base has, in part, cost them the last two presidential elections. Forget shock and awe—at this rate the GOP establishment may be preparing to end up looking dazed and confused as it loses yet another presidential election—even if Karl Rove’s white board says otherwise.