On Politics With Lisa Lerer: Who’s the Jeb?


Then again, maybe Beto O’Rourke is the cleaner analogy — another son of a politician who has faced skepticism for his privileged rise and was coaxed into the presidential contest not by any signature ideological cause but because, in Mr. O’Rourke’s words, he was “born to be in it.” (Of course, the silver spoon critique applies more credibly to Mr. Bush, who shares a surname with two presidents, than to the child of a former El Paso County commissioner.)

For more moderate figures in the Democratic field, like John Hickenlooper or Amy Klobuchar, Mr. Bush’s inadvertently prescient warning about the political perils of centrism could also prove relevant. Before entering the 2016 race, Mr. Bush suggested that the eventual Republican nominee would need to avoid being pulled to the partisan extreme to remain palatable to a mass audience — to be willing, he said, “to lose the primary to win the general.” Mr. Bush aced the first step.

Seeking a preliminary ruling on who suffers most from potentially elevated levels of Jeb-ness, we turned to Matt Gorman, a veteran Republican operative who worked on Mr. Bush’s campaign. He said he had identified Jeb-size red flags for two contenders in particular: Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren.

“With Biden, you’re having to rehash a lot of issues that the party might have moved past,” Mr. Gorman said, comparing this weakness to Mr. Bush’s challenge as an elected official with a long record to defend (and, in Mr. Bush’s case, a brother’s to answer for, too).

“With Warren and Jeb, both of them were presiding over big transformations of their party,” Mr. Gorman continued. “When Jeb came to power in 1998, he was a conservative revolutionary. Warren, in that same vein when she came in in ’12, was ushering in a wave of really liberal orthodoxy. All of a sudden, people drifted into her lane.”

But Mr. Gorman noted one significant caveat this time: It is highly unlikely that any Democrat will torment his intraparty competitors as Mr. Trump did — taunting Mr. Bush’s family, belittling Marco Rubio, suggesting Ted Cruz was ineligible for the presidency because of his birthplace.

“That does work in their favor,” Mr. Gorman said. “Bernie’s not going to say Elizabeth Warren was born in Canada.”

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