Could Jeb Make a Bush Comeback?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has sat back quietly, watching as his successor Charlie Crist turned the state’s highest office into a political carnival as the ever-tan and white-haired current governor stages a tangled, party-dropping run for the U.S. Senate against youthful GOP newbie Marco Rubio.

As the Sunshine State struggles under the Crist, suddenly the Jeb Bush years are looking better and better—along with Bush’s political future.

Even as liberal enemies have been quick to blame his brother Dubya for everything from the lingering recession to the nation’s standing in the world, brother Jeb has said little—until now. Opening up candidly for the first time in a long time about the nation’s mounting woes under President Obama, Mr. Bush dubbed the President “Hubert Humphrey on steroids” in a soft spew with the New York Times that has whetted speculation that yet another Bush could be pondering a serious run for the Oval office. Even if for now he denies it.

“Jeb Bush is a contender — if he chooses to be,” says GOP analyst Cheri Jacobus on the notion of a Bush 45.

“He’s never been fully off the radar of political powerbrokers,” she said of his stature. “Importantly, Jeb Bush has the ability to raise the massive amounts of money required to take on the Obama money machine. He doesn’t make big mistakes and there are no notable gaffes. He’s got the executive experience to boot, making him a very attractive candidate.”

Since leaving the governor’s office, Mr. Bush has run his own consulting company and lent considerable influence to education reform, an issue touted by his brother and one near to his own heart in Florida where he runs a foundation. Florida made crucial strides in revamping testing and achievement expectations for both students and teachers.

Wearing a casual Cuban-style guayabera and speaking candidly as he dined on French fries in tony Coral Gables, Jeb Bush’s recent interview with Times reporter Matt Bai revealed a confident brother, unafraid to take on the current administration but also thoughtful in his assessment of criticism leveled at his family.

“Obama apparently likes to act like he’s still campaigning,” Bush chuffed.

“They are getting bashed out there every day,” Bush said of Obama’s public opinion skid, which continues amid the ruinous gulf oil spill and the smash-mouth Rolling Stone interview which allowed the now-retired Gen. Stanley McCrystal to open up a can of “you don’t know crap about the military” whoop ass on the youthful commander in chief.

“The Bush presidency’s a really good foil for everything that has happened,” Bush said to the Times. “I think there was a whole series of decisions made over time that, the cumulative effect of which created the financial meltdown that has created the hardship that we are facing. Congress, the administration, everyone can accept some responsibility.”

Republicans, hoping for a congressional shift during the 2010 midterm elections, badly need a star-wattage candidate who has executive and business experience and who can fund a run against the second term of Barack Obama in 2012.

While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, insider favorites like Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and the polarizing yet ever-popular former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin earn top mentions, some are left to wonder if it could be Jeb Bush who has the political jam to rock the house against Democrats.

“Republicans are suffering from a leadership deficit,” says Lynn University Professor Robert Watson, a presidential scholar, who notes that no real frontrunner has emerged.

“Bobby Jindal came on strong a year ago then fell on his face in his primetime response to Obama. Mark Sanford, well, enough said. Mitt Romney is still out there but simply not connecting the way he needs to be connecting. Tim Pawlenty and the Indiana governor (Mitch Daniels) look OK, but just OK. And Sarah Palin is a mixed blessing at best for the party. So who else is there?

“However, I continue to feel that the country has Bush fatigue,” Mr. Watson adds of the political dynasty, noting however, the wild card potential as issues like the economy, the ongoing conflicts and troop withdrawal issues in Iran and Afghanistan and future problems from the gulf oil leak.

“If ever there was a time in American politics where anything was possible and everything was impossible to predict, that time is now,” he said.

Mr. Bai, the Times reporter, speaking about his Jeb Bush story on MSNBC, says he thinks another Bush family White House bid could be a distinct possibility, noting that while Jeb Bush told him he wanted to work to build financial stability for his family and has no interest in running, the younger brother may be quietly reconsidering.

“As members of the (George W. Bush) administration continue to recede… I think the landscape changes,” Mr. Bai said. “I would be surprised that he doesn’t have to look at this anew. For a lot of people in the party, he is a really compelling figure.”