Whenever the deep thinkers of the Republican establishment glance at their bulging clown car of presidential hopefuls — with out-there Dr. Ben Carson, exorcist Bobby Jindal, loudmouth Chris Christie and bankruptcy expert Donald Trump jammed against Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, to name a few — they inevitably start chattering about "Jeb Bush."
Never mind that his father was a one-term wonder of no great distinction or that his brother is already a serious contender, in the eyes of historians, for worst president of the past 100 years. And never mind that on the issues most controversial among party activists — immigration and Common Core educational standards — he is an accursed "moderate."
Lacking any especially attractive alternative, powerful Republicans are pushing Bush to run in 2016. And he seems to be on the cusp of a decision. Besides, more than a few Democrats agree that Bush, however damaged his family brand, would be the most formidable candidate available to the GOP. They, too, whisper about him as "the only one who could beat Hillary Clinton."
Perhaps he could, although nearly all the polling data so far suggest Clinton would trounce Bush. But it is far too early to tell — in part because Bush, a politician who has been around for more than 20 years, is so little-known to the American public. Most voters are ignorant about Bush's record in Florida, where he was an exceptionally right-wing governor. They either don't know or don't remember, for example, how he signed a statute enabling him to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state, despite her husband's wishes. Florida's highest court later voided that law as unconstitutional — and the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court likewise rejected an appeal.
If Bush runs, extremism and corruption in the Sunshine State during his tenure will provide ample fodder for investigative reporters and primary opponents, as will many episodes in his long business career.
Five months after he left the governor's mansion in 2007, he joined Lehman Brothers as a "consultant." No doubt he was well-compensated, as reporters may learn if and when he releases his tax returns someday. The following year, Lehman infamously went bust — and left the state of Florida holding about $1 billion worth of bad mortgage investments. (A Bush spokeswoman said, "His role as a consultant to Lehman Brothers was in no way related to any Florida investments.")
There are many equally fascinating chapters in the Jeb dossier, rooted in his declaration three decades ago that he intended to become "very wealthy" as a developer and, yes, a "consultant." His partners back then included a certain Miguel Recarey, whose International Medical Centers allegedly perpetrated one of history's biggest Medicare frauds. (Connection to Medicare fraud seems to be a prerequisite to becoming governor of Florida, at least among Republicans; see Rick Scott and the Columbia/HCA Healthcare scam.) Indicted by the feds, Recarey fled the country — but not before Jeb placed a call on his behalf to his presidential dad's health and human services secretary, Margaret Heckler. For serving as the flunky of a crook, he received a generous tip of $75,000 from Recarey, a mob associate.
He performed a similar service, with more success, on behalf of the Cuban militant Orlando Bosch, for whom he sought a presidential pardon from his father. The boastful murderer of dozens of innocent people — and a prosecution target of the U.S. Justice Department — Bosch deserved a pardon about as much as the worst jihadi in Gitmo. But his sponsors were the same Cuban-Americans in Miami who had fostered Jeb's real estate business there, so he ignored the Republican attorney general's denunciation of Bosch as an "unreformed terrorist."
If Jeb runs for president, it will be fascinating to see whether the mainstream press, which vetted his brother George W. so inadequately during the 2000 presidential race, performs any better this time. But one way or another, American voters are going to learn much more about front-runner Jeb than they know — or remember — today.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.