In the aftermath of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) announcement speech on Monday, Maggie Haberman of The New York Times tweeted that "Several Dem strategists confess to pangs of concern watching Jeb speech right now." Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post replied to Haberman, saying that he was hearing the same thing.
These are just the latest examples of the press citing Hilary Clinton aides or unaffiliated Democrats saying the campaign most fears facing Jeb Bush. Maybe it's true. But pardon our skepticism. We suspect the Clinton camp would welcome Bush as the GOP nominee, and whispered worries to the contrary could very well just be orchestrated noise. Bush would bring the elimination of dynasty as an issue and no generational contrast. Moreover, the Clinton team already knows exactly how they'll use the Bush 41 and 43 baggage as campaign projectiles.
Likewise, the best Democrat to wield the dynasty attack on Bush probably is not a Clinton.
Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, remains in the driver's seat to win her party's nomination, although two recent polls show Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) moving to within hailing distance of her in New Hampshire even as she retains a mighty lead in Iowa and nationally. Bush, meanwhile, is among the favorites in the crowded Republican field, though he is not the favorite -- our most recent ratings of the GOP field, which are below, have Bush tied at the top with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI). But given that both Bush and Clinton made big speeches over the past several days, it's natural to look ahead and ponder the possibility of a rematch of the two families that contested the 1992 presidential election.
Clinton's speech Saturday felt something like the "relaunch" many described it as, although at the time of her official entry into the presidential race in April, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said that a "formal kickoff event" would come later, which is what the speech on New York City's Roosevelt Island was.
The former secretary of state does not have a reputation as a soaring speaker, and she did nothing to change that Saturday. It was in many respects a laundry list speech, reminiscent of Bill Clinton's State of the Union addresses, which were often interminably long and filled with small-bore proposals that the press rolled its eyes at but that seemed to go over well with the general public.
Included in the speech was automatic voter registration, universal preschool, paid family leave, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and other proposals designed to appeal to rank-and-file Democrats. It was a cavalcade of liberal policy goals that illustrated she's not taking her eye off step No. 1 this time, the way she did in 2007 by underestimating Barack Obama. She has to win the nomination first, and part of the speech could be summarized as "Take that, Bernie Sanders...and Elizabeth Warren." Skeptical Republicans might say she was providing "stuff" -- as Mitt Romney put it back in 2012 in his criticism of the Democrats -- to the various constituencies that make up the modern Democratic Party.
One obvious bit of Clinton pandering was a proposal to amend the Constitution to undo the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which Democrats revile as the cause of the infusion of big-money Super PACs onto the political scene. Such an amendment would be politically impossible -- two-thirds of the House and Senate would need to approve the amendment, and then three-fourths of the states. Get real. (Some of the Republican candidates are trying the same phony gambit with same-sex marriage as the Supreme Court decides whether to make it universally legal.)
Bush, in his Monday announcement, did his share of pandering. One ambitious goal Bush laid out was the desire to achieve 4% economic growth, which he said would be accompanied by 19 million new jobs. This goal immediately raised the eyebrows of economists, many of whom deemed sustained growth at that rate as unlikely, if not impossible. While Bush didn't explicitly state how long he would expect the economy grow at such a rate, history suggests it would be hard to achieve for two whole terms in the White House. Based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the last time an eight-year period averaged at least 4% growth was from 1983 through 1990 (4.1%), after the early struggles of the Ronald Reagan years passed and the economy continued to perform well early into George H.W. Bush's presidency. But otherwise, one has to go back to 1973 for another eight-year period with average annual growth at that rate. And that was the end of an era where from 1965 (1958 through 1965) to 1973 (1966 through 1973) every eight-year period had at least a 4% average. More recently, Bill Clinton came very close to pulling off what may indeed be Bush's goal: Clinton's presidency featured an average annual growth rate of 3.9%. Somehow, we guess Hillary Clinton, not Jeb Bush, will be boasting about that one.
Lofty goals qualify as bold, but a garden-variety campaign pledge can become a political boomerang. Look at Obama: Part of his 2008 appeal was a pledge to bring the parties together, an impossible task in this polarized era that he has spectacularly (with the GOP's determined help) failed to achieve.
One fascinating aspect of Bush's announcement was his adoption of his father and brother's approach. Bush 41 promised a "kinder, gentler" administration, while Bush 43 doubled down with "compassionate conservatism." Now, the potential Bush 45 has promised to show people what is "in my heart."
But slogans and approaches cannot obscure historical records. Hillary Clinton's response will be something along these lines: "Twice the American people were promised compassion, and what they got was war and recession. Why would we take the bait a third time? It's still the economy, stupid!"
No presidential candidate is tabula rasa, a blank slate. They all come carrying baggage. Hillary has plenty of it, some Bill's and some all her own. But no one needs as big a baggage cart as Jeb Bush, who will lug the weight of a dozen Bush White House years around on the campaign trail, plus the controversies from his eight years in Tallahassee.
Given that Bush, like Clinton, is not a naturally gifted speaker, we found his performance Monday to be strong. Even though he's effectively been in the race since December, it's easy to imagine that the coverage of Bush's speech and official announcement will help him get a small bump in the polls.
Both Bush and Clinton want to distance themselves from two men apiece: For Bush, it's 41 and 43. In his announcement speech, Jeb Bush said that no one deserves to win the White House "by right of resume, party, seniority, family, or family narrative. It's nobody's turn."
For Clinton, it's 42 and 44. In an interview with the Des Moines Register earlier this week, Hillary was asked about whether she was running for a third Bill Clinton or Barack Obama term. "I'm running for my first term. I will have my own proposals," she said.
There's a grain of truth to both claims, but they are denying the larger reality. Bush is where he is because his brother and father were POTUS; he's far more Bush than Jeb. And Clinton is there because of Bill and Barack. She is indeed a continuation of both presidencies.
Big breaks from the past by these two candidates just aren't possible because the public isn't going to find them credible.
Hillary's task is not easy, because as we've seen many times, Bill can say and do things that require major cleanup. Moreover, any new scandal involving Bill reminds voters of the long history of ethical problems that has dogged both Clintons. And she has to live with President Obama's successes and failures -- those already catalogued and those occurring right through Election Day.
What's the saving grace for Clinton? First, even a lame duck president such as Obama can maneuver in substantive ways to help her. Second, Clinton has less defending to do with her husband's record than Bush must do for his brother's two terms.