Giving JEB! His Due: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was always viewed as the smarter of the Bush brothers. When George W. Bush wanted to run for governor in Texas against Ann Richards (a Democrat who had essentially been an institution in that state), Bush’s parents—the former President George H.W. Bush and first lady, Barbara Bush—insisted that he wait.
In their eyes, the Bush namesake was much too brash and unproven whereas Jeb, the bookish younger brother of George W., was the future of the Bush Family when it came to politics.
Fate, it seems, has a sense of humor.
A Tale of Two Brothers
After all, 1994 was the year that George W. Bush defied his parents and ran for Texas governor. The same year that his younger brother challenged the mighty Democratic political machine of Lawton Chiles. Like Ann Richards in Texas, Lawton Chiles was an entrenched political institution. No one could displace him.
The bookish Jeb Bush believed otherwise.
Yet, it was the undisciplined older brother, George W., who would prevail as an insurgent candidate for governor and the more disciplined, refined Jeb, would lose in 1994.
Of course, fate can only play with a man’s destiny for so long.
Four years after his defeat by legendary “Walkin’” Lawton Chiles, Jeb Bush ultimately defeated Chiles’ handpicked successor, Buddy MacKay, for the governor’s office. Once in power, Jeb implemented a sweeping set of policies that both modernized the backwater state of Florida and laid the groundwork for the massive successes of the state today.
Jeb Bush took over what was once a solidly blue state in Florida and promised to change the political culture in Tallahassee. The state was hemorrhaging money under the Democrat machine that had ruled it for too long. Jeb Bush as governor changed that.
He had a pragmatic and reformist approach to governing Florida that was highly effective. Jeb Bush brought people into his fold and maximized their contributions toward modernizing Florida. Because of that, Florida’s educational system was bettered, an unjust child-welfare system was entirely reformed in the wake of the Rilya Wilson tragedy, and Florida’s economy boomed.
Yes, Jeb Bush Did Make Florida Great
There can be little doubt that Jeb Bush helped to make Florida great. I shudder to think how my home state would have evolved (or not) had the Democrats managed to hold power in the critical 1998 gubernatorial race. They were driving the state into the depths of despair, as much as California’s current governor, Gavin Newsom, is ruining his state.
Yet, Jeb Bush’s pragmatic, technocratic approach—married to conventional conservative ideology—to governance that made him such a successful Florida governor also made him a failed presidential candidate in 2016.
Despite his incredible success as governor of the country’s fourth-largest economy (if Florida were an independent nation, it’d be the fifteenth-largest economy in the world), Jeb Bush was unable to win over the skeptical Republican base in 2016. Just as he had lost to Lawton Chiles’ entrenched machine in the 1994 gubernatorial race, Jeb had lost to the unorthodox Donald Trump.
Go back to George W. Bush’s race against Ann Richards in Texas in 1994. The reason that George W. Bush beat the old battle axe was because he “out-Texaned her.” That’s just another way of saying that George W. Bush had more gumption.
Therefore, Jeb’s older brother, especially when he was starting out in politics, was much more like Donald Trump in 2016. He was brash and unapologetic. Voters like that personality type in their potential leaders—especially Republican primary voters in the last few national election cycles. Jeb Bush is incapable of this behavior. It’s why, despite being the son of a popular former president (as well as the brother of another president) with lots of name recognition, Jeb Bush had a pathetic showing in 2016.
George W. Bush proved his parents wrong: it was the less refined, more antagonistic brother who was able to have the greater political career while Jeb topped out as Florida governor.
No, Ron DeSantis is Not Jeb Bush
As the 2024 GOP Primary gets underway, former President Donald J. Trump, who is running again for president, has been sniping at Florida’s current Republican governor, Ron DeSantis. Trump and his team fear that DeSantis is preparing to run for the Republican nomination against Trump and that the Florida governor might prevail.
So, the Trump team has thrown everything at DeSantis—including claims that DeSantis is just a Jeb clone.
Of course, DeSantis has governed similarly to his predecessor: successfully. Even Trump, though, in his recent Sean Hannity interview praised every Florida Republican governor since Jeb Bush for helping to make the state great (as a way of undercutting DeSantis’ claims to being the best qualified for the presidency).
Yet, no one in the GOP should seek to be crowned Jeb Bush’s heir apparent. That is why anyone involved with DeSantis’ potential presidential run should be avoiding Jeb Bush’s public comments praising the current Florida governor. And to be clear, there are many differences between what Jeb Bush might have done as president and what DeSantis would one day do in the office—notably in foreign policy.
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Whatever one thinks about Jeb Bush as a candidate, he was a great governor who helped to build the basis for the success that Florida is currently enjoying. We should learn to give Jeb his due.
Oh, and as Jeb Bush might demure, “Please Clap.”
Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who serves as a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive.com. Weichert is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.