Seven or eight months ago, one might have described the whole idea of a new Bush or even a Cheney administration as near-unthinkable. But as pundits put aside the idle pondering and begin to really parse out the likelihood of the 2012 presidential race, it's almost impossible to rule either of them out.
For one thing, the Republican Party- despite a strong month during the August recess- is still bereft of any new leadership. As the months have progressed, there has been no GOP figurehead to emerge as the true voice of the opposition. What's more is that the field of potential Republican leaders seems to be shrinking. Back in January, the average pundit probably would have cited seven or eight names as potential GOP presidential candidates for 2009: Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Senator John Ensign of Nevada. Four of those names can essentially be stricken from the list.
The power vacuum at the top of the Republican Party is already starting to draw some names from the past. Rick Santorum, the Republican former Senator from Pennsylvania, is admittedly considering a Presidential bid. So is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
In that case, someone like Jeb Bush is almost impossible to overlook. The two-term former Governor of Florida left office with some of the highest approval numbers of any chief executive in the Sunshine State in the last 20 years, despite the fact that when he was termed out in 2006, his brother's approval rating in the White House were nothing short of dismal. Bush's resume is undeniable, having managed one of the largest economies in the country. But what's more important is that the fervency behind the anti-Bush campaign seems- in large part- to have dissipated. He'd make every bit as good a candidate as his brother did, with a more formal speaking style and calmer, more reasoned approach to policy. Plus, he'd enter the fold with a lock on one of the largest electoral prizes nationwide. It certainly might be enough to get him the Republican nomination. When there was talk of him running for the Senate in 2010, early polls showed him to be a runaway favorite against any primary or general election opponent. (His deciding not to seek that seat may be an indication in and of itself of what's to come for the former Governor.)
Now, this next one might be a bit more of a stretch: the Wall Street Journal recently ran an article suggesting the possibility that Cheney could be viable in 2012. Especially considering the recent revelations by the Justice Department and Homeland Security of foiled terror plots in New York City and elsewhere, terrorism- for better or for worse- remains an issue. Dick Cheney was the face of the War on Terror over the last eight years. If it were to become a central issue in the campaign, as it largely was in 2004, Cheney would have more than a shot. The real question is, would he want it? In all likelihood, the answer would be no, though it's certainly possible. His health would be a minor threshold issue, but keep in mind that in 2012, he'll be younger than John McCain was in 2008.
Either way, don't overestimate the distrust of the Bush or Cheney names when it comes to future national contests. If Jeb Bush could distinguish himself from George in the right ways, with the rest of his background and current popularity, he'd have all the potential in world to be successful. For Cheney, the mood of the nation would have to be just so, but it's not beyond the realm of imagination.