Primary election polls conducted well in advance of an election usually do not have a ton of probative value. One would have to suppose this maxim is doubly true when the poll is conducted roughly 30 MONTHS prior to the primary election.
And, yet, there is something somewhat valuable in the 2012 Republican primary poll released this week by CNN. Take a look at these results:
Republican Primary Survey--2012, Conducted By CNN (Released 6/2)
Mike Huckabee 22%
Sarah Palin 21%
Mitt Romney 21%
Newt Gingrich 13%
Someone Else (vol.) 10%
Jeb Bush 6%
No Opinion 4%
No One (vol.) 3%
CNN names five viable Republicans (well, as viable as Republicans can be right now). All of the candidates have high name recognition, either by virtue of previous presidential bids or other brushes with national notoriety.
The lack of a clear favorite is rather clearly articulated by the fact that there are THREE of the five leading candidates within one percentage point of one another. Coupled with the fact that NO ONE is over 22%, and it becomes evident that there is no clear Republican frontrunner for 2012.
And...yet...the story is not who is at the front of the pack. The story is about the guy bringing up the rear.
John Ellis Bush.
On paper, this is nonsensical. Every person in front of Jeb Bush in the queue has a huge political liability, whether it is Huckabee's staunch social conservatism, Romney's past ideological hedgings as Governor, Gingrich's checkered past as Speaker, or Palin's awkward introduction to the national stage.
On paper, Jeb Bush should be able to absolutely blast this field into political oblivion. He is the former governor of what will, by 2012, be the third largest state in the Union. While serving as governor, his approval ratings were almost uniformly in the high 50s or better. His families have ties to Washington dating back three generations and eight decades. He is, for all of his ideological foibles that would drive progressives mad, one of the more telegenic advocates from the political right-wing. On the stump, he would be at no worse than a draw with the other four named candidates.
And, despite all that, there he is. Not just in fifth place, but in an almost unthinkable position: dead last, in a landslide.
There is really only one rational explanation for this: Bush fatigue.
Conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that this is, by all rights, a phenomenon limited to Democratic and Independent voters. After all, as the final days of the Bush presidency were flying off of the calendar, we remember that George W. Bush was languishing with approval ratings in the 20s. We also remember, though, that a majority of Republicans were still willing to stand in the face of nearly uniform public opinion. A fairly strong majority of them were willing to state their approval for this president and his eight-year record.
Conventional wisdom, even going as far back as 2006, was that Jeb Bush was demurring from a 2008 presidential bid because he could win the primary, but couldn't win the general. Consider this reference from an insightful 2006 article in Ireland's Village online publication (boldtype indicates my emphasis):
Senior Republican pollsters like Matthew Dowd believe that while Jeb Bush would easily win the Republican primary, the Bush fatigue that has set in since last year would virtually guarantee a win for Hillary Clinton. Jeb Bush and the Republican party have quietly decided that the country just isn't ready for four more years of the Bush family.
This poll stands as a pretty profound refutation of what Dowd and company believed three years ago. Even the Republican Party, it would seem, is not willing to cast its lot with another Bush.
It is possible, of course, that this is a little bit of rational voting on the part of the GOP electorate. It is possible that they have arrived at the same conclusion that Dowd did back in 2006. Therefore, there is not much sense in voting for a candidate in the primary that you know will get throttled come November.
This, of course, has to be quite bittersweet for Jeb Bush. One of the most oft-rumored backstories in the Bush family saga is that everyone in the Bush family presumed that it would be Jeb, and not George W., that was destined for the White House.
Check out this brief passage from the Village article linked to earlier in this piece:
Despite, or perhaps because of, a record that suggests he is far more "conservative" than he is compassionate, Jeb Bush was always destined for great things in the Republican party. Many senior Republicans, including those in his own family, believed that it was the sober, articulate Jeb – not his erratic, feckless older brother – who would follow his father to the White House.
These whispers were indirectly confirmed by Jeb Bush's own son, who, in an exchange documented in Kevin Phillips' book American Dynasty, somewhat directly confirmed during his uncle's first inaugural that the Bush family did not necessarily foresee W. as the legitimate heir to the dynasty.
"No one would have picked my uncle. If you came up to any close member of my family six years ago and said my uncle wanted to be president, they'd probably laugh in your face. We were really surprised."
In the book, Phillips also points out that George W. Bush stole his brother's thunder in another key way. When he announced his bid for governor shortly after the off-year elections in 1993, he took some light off of his younger brother, who had already committed to the Florida governors race months earlier. Even more so, given that W's decision set up a high profile revenge matchup with Texas Governor Ann Richards, who had famously lampooned their father in 1988 with her "silver foot in his mouth" dig at the Democratic National Convention.
At every turn, it seems, George W. Bush has indirectly stifled the political ambitions of his younger sibling. In 1994, one could argue that Jeb Bush might have been able to reverse his narrow defeat to incumbent Lawton Chiles had Republicans not had their attention divided between that high-profile gubernatorial election and the one taking place several hundred miles to the west. W's victory, and Jeb's defeat, set the stage for the next decade. By the time that Jeb had avenged his defeat in 1994 and earned election to the Florida statehouse in 1998, his older brother was the undisputed GOP frontrunner for 2000, having won re-election with nearly 70% of the vote. Within hours of CNN declaring Jeb Bush the new governor of Florida, they were releasing exit polling results showing that George W. Bush had a modest lead over Al Gore in what had to have been the first general election poll of the 2000 election cycle.
If the outcomes of 1994 retarded Jeb Bush's national ambitions, the outcomes of 2001-2008 may well have destroyed them. This poll is certianly notable for how far back from the remainder of the potential 2012 field Jeb Bush really is. Of course, it goes without saying that a poll in June of 2009 is not the final word on Election 2012. It is possible that three years will be a respectable interval for voters in the GOP to shed their Bush fatigue.
If not, then Jeb Bush might be one of those rare figures in American politics: a politician that everyone targeted for political stardom, who never wound up running for president.