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Martin Dyckman: Jeb Bush-Gotterdammerung, and the rise of Marco Rubio

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It is startling to even think these words, let alone to have to write them, but I’m feeling sympathy for Jeb Bush.

He may not welcome that emotion from a liberal who has rarely agreed with him about anything, but there’s a nation at stake.

It seems almost unbelievable that the two most qualified of the Republican presidential candidates, Bush and John Kasich, are lagging far behind people whose election would be an international disgrace.

Donald Trump is the most arrogant presidential seeker since Aaron Burr in 1800. Ben Carson‘s willful ignorance, in which he exults, has no precedent. Ted Cruz not only resembles the malevolent U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, but appears to be channeling him.

A Nick Anderson cartoon in the Oct. 28 Houston Chronicle showed Trump at a debate lectern bellowing, “I SAY IDIOTIC THINGS LOUDLY!” Beside him stood Carson saying, “I say idiotic things calmly.” Between them, enthusiastic voters were fleeing from Trump’s side to Carson’s.

Unlike Carson, Trump or Cruz, Bush would be a credible successor to the Oval Office. He competently governed what is now the third largest state and although his policies were questionable, his intelligence was not.

Eliminating the undeserving, the unqualified and the unable leads to this question: Is Marco Rubio as deserving, as qualified and as able as Jeb Bush?

Not if accomplishment is the measure of those qualities.

Rubio’s entire career has been defined by ambition rather than accomplishment, unless the meaning of that word comprises only the winning of elections rather than how the victor uses the office.

The New York Times told recently how Rubio snatched the Florida House speakership for 2007-08 from his fellow Miamian, Gaston Cantens, who had been elected to the Legislature before him.

“In exchange for votes from northern Florida lawmakers, former legislators and aides said, he agreed not to fight a measure that increased money for school spending in less populated rural regions of the state and reduced it in denser, high-cost areas like Miami.”

Whether to increase what budget writers called the “sparsity factor” was always a legitimate question, but not as a bargaining chip for a young politician’s incandescent ambition.

Like Speaker Johnnie Byrd, whose favor and patronage Rubio courted, he would likely not have been speaker but for the term limit initiative that purged many capable and more experienced legislators.

Rubio’s use of the speakership is remembered chiefly for a failed effort to substitute higher sales taxes for property taxes, which is altogether the wrong thing to do. To quote my journalistic colleague Bill Cotterell, that could have given Donald Trump a tax windfall on his Mar-A-Lago resort at the expense of the maids, gardeners and wait staff who labor there.

Rubio is still at it. His so-called “tax reform” agenda offers crumbs to the middle class and poor at the expense of “trillions in deficit-busting tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations,” as described by Tax Justice Blog.

His tenure as speaker is remembered also for lavish use of Republican Party credit cards, to which he charged – by his own account – $160,000 in expenses.

As a senator, he has accomplished nothing. That’s not unusual for a first-termer, but rather than take credit for his work on a sound and responsible immigration compromise, he turned tail and disowned it as soon as it came under fire from the raving bigot wing of the Republican Party.

To hear him explain his missed votes – more than any colleague – it sounds as if he can’t be bothered with the Senate’s tedium. He should have known that before he ran.

His surge in polling owes little to his record but a lot to his charisma, which is Bush’s weakest point. The national press has been merciless to Bush on that, giving him little credit even when he’s right – as in renouncing Florida’s sugar subsidy.

No Floridian has come close to the presidency. Former Gov. Reubin Askew couldn’t get past Iowa and New Hampshire in 1974 and gave up before it was Florida’s turn to vote. Twenty years later, Sen. and former Gov. Bob Graham had to fold before the campaign got under way.

The irony is that in 2015, with two Floridians running with money enough to last until the Florida primary, the Florida GOP’s winner-take-all rule is likely to finish off both if they split the home vote and Trump, Carson or Cruz wins nearly all the delegates with only a meager plurality.

My Context Florida colleague Jac Ver Steeg has suggested that Bush drop out and run for the Senate seat Rubio is vacating. But it’s hard to imagine Bush wanting to be in the Senate as only one of 100, or being willing to help Rubio score another triumph of ambition over ability.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina. 

For more state and national commentary visit Context Florida.

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