From Ronald to Donald: Another Bush to The Rescue?

Picture Donald Trump late on the evening of July 21, nomination in hand but polls showing him trailing Hillary by 15 points. It's not hard to imagine him picking up that phone and dialing up a Bush.
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The scene is Mexico City, July 22, 2016.

It is less than 24 hours since the Republican convention in Cleveland ended with the nomination of Donald Trump. The loudest roar from the crowd came with his line about how "Mexico's gonna pay for the wall."

Now, in an ornate room in the residence of the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, the country's leader and an American politician and his wife -- speaking perfect Spanish -- are engaged in an animated conversation about the US elections.

"Look" Mr. President, the former Governor says. "You know I had my differences with Donald on immigration. I thought he was insensitive and even mean. But I'm here as his running mate and your friend, and with my Mexican wife, to assure you that he didn't really mean all that. As for that wall, we are only using "Wall" in a figurative sense. I promise that you won't be getting any invoice for it."

Like father, like son. Like his father, George H.W., who also was the establishment favorite in 1980 but was soundly beaten for the nomination by another celebrity, I think Jeb will end up on the 2016 ticket for the same kind of reasons that the old man did. So let's not say goodbye to the Bush family just yet.

Reading Jon Meacham's interesting book, "Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George H.W., Bush," we see how H.W. and the GOP establishment had ridiculed Reagan when he gave that fiery speech in 1964 to nominate Barry Goldwater, a candidate who led the party to a defeat of historic proportions. The ridicule turned to fear when Reagan nearly beat Nixon for the nomination in '68 and came even closer in '76 almost defeating a sitting president.

So it made perfect sense that George H.W. would be the establishment's last gasp attempt at stopping Reagan in 1980. As his son would allege about a likely GOP nominee a quarter century later, George H.W. said Reagan was untested, inexperienced and, even worse, might prove dangerous for the world. Bush beat him in Iowa, but Reagan then won New Hampshire and was soon on his way to the nomination.

Meacham shows George H.W. with family and friends (Jeb was probably there) in his hotel suite at the Republican convention in Detroit. We see H.W. as a glum, dispirited man, moaning about how he was finished in politics and horrified at the thought of going home to Houston, to a boring life with a martini before 6 as the daily highlight.

In another suite, the soon-to-be presidential nominee was being told by advisers that he had to select a vice-presidential candidate and that it had to be a "moderate."

"Don't you try to sell me on that Bush," Reagan told his team. He made a face and shouted something about "Voodoo Economics", the term Bush had used to slam his promises of cutting both taxes and government spending at the same time.

It didn't take all that long for Reagan to cave. Beneath the rhetoric he was always a transactional guy, very much like today's Trump. He picked up the phone and the next day he and Bush marched into the convention as running mates.

The longstanding bitterness between the two -- and their families and friends -- did not disappear overnight, but the Bushes seemed all too happy to jettison their positions on abortion, environment and other issues and rally round Reagan.

The far right then, also known as what remains of GOP moderates now, weren't happy about the Bush selection. At one point, H.W. said "those nuts will never be for me."

Likewise, today's extreme conservatives won't be happy about Bush on the ticket, but they'll live with it.

Like father, like son. Not long after the convention ended, the Reagan running mate was on his campaign plane headed not for some major US city, but, instead, for Beijing, Tokyo, London and other important capitals. Reagan's team had handed him the job of reassuring leaders of important nations -- allies and foes alike--that a President Reagan would not be the "Cold War Cowboy" that many thought him to be, inside and outside of America.

Picture Donald Trump late on the evening of July 21, nomination in hand but polls showing him trailing Hillary by 15 points. It's not hard to imagine him picking up that phone and dialing up a Bush.

And who better to carry that message of reassurance than another Bush? Another Bush perfectly willing to roll over on principles and hit the road for the ticket.

First stop -- Mexico City, of course. But then China, Japan, Germany and even the Gulf states. Jeb can sooth the fears of foreign leaders and, at the same time, eliminate any memories of that "low energy" candidate, as Trump had tagged him.

But I think that's where the analogy ends. And it's hard to see it not ending badly for the GOP.

Even a Bush won't be able to turn attention away from Trump's coarseness, vulgarity and viciousness. Ronald Reagan had none of those negatives. Even those of us who disagreed with his views thought he was, at least, presidential in the way he conducted himself.

There's been a Bush on every successful Republican ticket since that Reagan-Bush victory in 1980. There well might be one on this ticket too. But Donald is not Ronald and that will be clear in the end.

Toby Moffett is a former member of Congress from Connecticut. He is a Special Adviser at Mayer Brown, LLP.

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