by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Perhaps the best-kept secret in modern American life is that most apolitical people do not in fact divide history into neat presidential-shaped chunks — as might a historian focused on a hereditary monarchy — but think instead about how they and their families are doing, about where the country is going, and about what they have recently lost or gained. However one cuts it, the last 15 years have been peculiar and they have been confusing. Economically, culturally, and spiritually, America is not where it was during its brief “holiday from history.” Rather, it is divided, under-confident, and lost. If the Right is looking for something to push against — and if its candidates are seeking an anxiety that it can promise to fix — it should be that general sense of malaise. Simply promising to replace Barack Obama is not going to cut it.
There are Republican candidates who can do this and there are candidates who cannot, and, worryingly for the GOP, the primary among those “cannots” is the front-runner. Sure, Jeb Bush is an impressive man. But to nominate him at this moment would be to push Republicans in the wrong direction and to force them into doing something that they should really not want to do: namely, re-litigating – and perhaps even defending – the political decisions that were made between 2000 and 2008. …
… Instead, the conservative play should be to put up an attractive newcomer and to hope that he can persuade the electorate to turn its back on the established machine. Who should that be? Well, that depends primarily on aesthetics rather than policy. I take no pleasure in writing this: In an ideal world, our elections would be held on paper, our candidates would be expected to eschew the superficial, and the president would be heard from only if there were a war or a tsunami. Policy, and not television commercials, would rule the political roost. In the real world, however, messaging matters a great, great deal. If they are serious about winning in 2016, conservatives should make sure that they pick a candidate who is capable not only of tapping into the contemporary dissatisfaction, but of breaking with his own party’s past, too. Bush cannot do that. Few can.