At stake is access to an elaborate U.S. network of corporate givers, campaign strategists and grass-roots volunteers who have repeatedly propelled the Bushes to victory – a network that could now give a new contender the inside track to winning the GOP’s 2008 presidential nomination.
The leading potential heirs to that political fortune so far are Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a one-time rival to the current President Bush and presumed front-runner for the nomination, and, a bit surprisingly, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has emerged as a top-tier contender by wooing social conservatives considered crucial in the early primary contests.
Adding to the drama, a sibling divide appears to be emerging among aides closest to President Bush and his brother, outgoing Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Some key members of Jeb Bush’s inner circle have signed up to help Romney, though several of President Bush’s senior strategists have gone to McCain. They include the media adviser and political director for the president’s 2004 campaign.
The fight for the Bush mantle demonstrates that, even after the plunge in President Bush’s popularity and the GOP’s thumping in the midterm elections, the family network remains the single most powerful force in Republican Party politics.
So, is Jeb going to eventually line up with Romney? He's obviously "mum" on this issue . . . but is he really?
In this recent story about Jeb he said:
Bush said he would feel comfortable with Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, or John McCain as president.
"I like Romney, but I'd also be comforted at night knowing that Rudy Giuliani was leading our nation in a time of war, and John McCain — all three of them," Bush said.
"Being president, your ideology is important, but your character matters a lot, too.
"One of the descriptors of being president that I think is one of the most important, frankly, is, can a father tell a daughter or a son about the president, ‘If you work hard and you play by the rules and you strive for greatness, you can be just like him,' warts and all? Because we're all imperfect under God's watchful eye, and in politics the imperfections are what everybody focuses on. I think they're all three admirable men."
I find Jeb's wording interesting and seems to put a heirarchy in that he "like[s] Romney" the best. Also, that phrase about character is something that Romney has truly embodied in his personal, professional, and political life. Phrases like that and the fact that Jeb's closest (and best) political advisors have recently gone over to Romney speaks volumes about where Jeb is lining up IMO (more evidence here . . . where Jeb has encouraged some of his staff to join up with Romney).
So Jeb's leaning Romney now . . . but why is big bro W leaning McCain? Does it strike anyone as strange that the 2000 rivals (in a mean S.C. primary especially) would be natural allies? What about McCain's outspoken record against Bush policies in so many areas (Detainee treatment, Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Marriage Protection Ammendment, etc . . .)?
We'll, I detailed some months back that it seems pretty clear that McCain is now benefiting from a deal he struck with Bush for staying out of a presidential run in 2004. The relevant arguement from that post is below:
4) a promise from GW Bush that if McCain sat out in 2004 and campaigned for W, that the favor would be returned in 2008 (Oh, THAT IS WHY HE KEPT CHENEY ON AS VP!) Bush may not be many things, but he is a man of his word.
Many have speculated on this fourth claim before . . . but two recent pieces seem to be putting the picture together pretty clearly now. First, a piece in the Washington Times called "McCain sitting pretty for 2008 race" starts out:Some top Republicans at odds with Sen. John McCain on core conservative issues say privately that the party's 2008 presidential nomination is "his to lose."It then goes on to discuss former TEXAS Senator Phill Graham's support for McCain, despite not agreeing with him on some issues.
They cite the Arizona senator's head start in fundraising, a primary calendar that is shaping up in his favor and a growing belief that he enjoys the tacit support of President Bush."There are plenty of things I don't agree with John on, but I don't think they are important, compared to things I do agree with him on," the former Texas A&M University economics professor said.Later . . ."What I've heard seems plausible to me -- that a deal was cut that if McCain supported Bush in 2004, the Bush team would get behind McCain for 2008," Republican media consultant Tom Edmonds says.Sounds like a challenge to me!
Among those who have signed on with Mr. McCain are Mark McKinnon, Mr. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaign media strategist, and Terry Nelson, Mr. Bush's 2004 national political director.
A senior Republican senator from a Western state who opposes Mr. McCain says privately, "Look at who he's got in his camp and look at him in the polls -- I'm telling you there's no one out there strong enough to beat him. It's his to lose."
. . .
4) Although Bush seems to have pointed the closest in his political machine in McCain's direction, it looks like the financial donors are thinking more independently.
This Bush-McCain "back-room deal" of trading support will not sit well with the media or the GOP electorate . . . it may just turn out to be McCain's "back-fire deal."
So, I can see how Romney has "earned" his respect and growing support from Jeb, whereas I see his chief rival as working the world of political deals and quid pro quos to get the tacit support of George W. At least that's the way a avid Romney fan sees it.