A host of family-connected reasons could explain the often pained look on Jeb Bush’s face.
But the “cottage” being built for him in the family compound at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine, is the least of them.
Of course, the waterfront home with wraparound porch is an obvious symbol of wealth and privilege. Bush’s rivals would be happy to turn it into as big an albatross as Mitt Romney’s La Jolla mansion, which had an extra spicy renovation ingredient to stir the pot of class warfare: a garage with car elevator.
But for Bush, separating himself from Romney and the crime of being rich is a much less urgent matter than separating himself from George W. Bush and the crime of invading a country on the basis of a lie.
As Senator Rand Paul — one of Bush’s many Republican rivals — put it, Jeb Bush has challenges on two fronts. The first, said Paul in an interview on MSNBC, is “convincing conservatives that he’s conservative.” The second is “the Bush legacy on war.”
He’s probably right on the challenges, but not their order.
Rick Santorum’s entrance into the presidential primary field is good news for Bush. It means the conservative vote stands to be even more divided amongst Republican candidates so numerous they are starting to look like a replacement show for “19 Kids and Counting.” The more conservatives in the race, the easier it is for a pool of more centrist Republican primary voters to consolidate around the moderate candidate of their choosing.
But as ISIS continues its campaign of terror in Iraq, what this country did and why will be a continuing issue for all candidates in 2016. Specifically as it relates to George W. Bush, it adds up to a big burden for Jeb Bush — bigger than overcoming the distrust of conservatives.
Even he can’t keep his brother out of it. “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president,” he said recently in Portsmouth, N.H.
President Obama must answer for the decisions he made and continues to make as ISIS militants brutally murder Iraqis. When Cher calls you out on your response, you’re in trouble.
But questions about how ISIS got to this point rightly lead back to the invasion started under President George W. Bush. And the Bush who now wants to be president has problems answering those questions. The Washington Post illustrated his uncomfortable position by reporting “every answer Jeb Bush gave on Iraq” during the week of May 14. The sound bite version includes the following:
Asked by Megyn Kelly of Fox News, “knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” Bush replied, “I would’ve. And so would’ve Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would’ve almost everybody who was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
The next day, he said he “interpreted the question wrong.” To clarify, he said, “Knowing what we know now, clearly there were mistakes as it related to both the intelligence in the lead-up to the war and the lack of focus on security.”
But pressed on whether he would have made a different decision, he said, “Yeah, I don’t know what that decision would have been — that’s a hypothetical. The simple fact is that mistakes were made.”
Then at a town hall in Nevada he said, “There were mistakes made, but based on the information we had, it was the right decision — and the same decision that people on the left and right agreed with.” He followed that up with this at a town hall in Arizona: “Knowing what we now know, what would you have done? I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”
That still doesn’t answer the question of what Americans knew and why we knew it — and why Jeb Bush still counts his brother as one of his foreign policy advisors on the Middle East.
Because of all this, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is starting to look like the GOP’s favored centrist candidate. According to The New York Times, he has become the candidate most feared by Hillary Clinton.
Rubio may lack experience. But he also lacks the Bush family baggage.
Both the war legacy and the “cottage” in Kennebunkport.