When it was announced that Donald Trump had won the South Carolina primaries, I was elated because He is my personal favorite to win the US Republican nomination. You ask why a Nigerian should be so interested in the US presidential elections?
You expect me to say it’s because the US is one of the countries whose domestic policies can have far reaching implications in the rest of the world, but I would say the truth. It’s because the US elections are always very interesting. I like the way US elections are held, with all the glitz and glamour and sound bites associated with it.
I guess I am not alone because I have read reports were it is said that a non US political party ran a US style campaign, perhaps with confetti and colorful visuals and opinion polls, etc.
Anyway in his case my joy at the victory of Donald Trump was tempered by the withdrawal of Jeb Bush from the Republican Presidential race. I gained my international political consciousness during the era of George Bush Senior. In fact, I recall a day when I was about 6 years old when I saw a cover page of Businessweek with 2 men on it standing behind lecterns.
I asked my mum who they were and she told me one was George Bush Senior, and the other was Michael Dukakis who were both running to become President of the United States of America. Ever since that moment, I have followed the political careers of the Bushes with keen interest.
(The other initiation into interest in international politics I had was when my dad was listening to the BBC, and it was announced that Nelson Mandela of the ANC had been released: I asked my dad what the ANC was and he told me it was a party. I was confused about what he meant until he explained to me what a political party was.)
Since then I have keenly followed reports of politics from other countries as well as from my own country Nigeria, and I can tell you, it is interesting.
Okay, so Jeb Bush lost out and dropped out in South Carolina. One US publication proclaimed that the Great Bush Dynasty ended thus and with a whimper, not a bang. When I read that, the student of world history in me remembered several great dynasties that ended with supposed whimpers.
I remembered the Habsburg Imperial family that in their heydays ‘owned’ the title, Holy Roman Emperor – as supposed successors to the Julius Ceasars of ancient Rome. By wielding that imperial crown they oversaw a European empire that had within it at least 3 G7seven countries, namely France, Germany and Italy, and much of what is today called the European Union.
But when General and later Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte came into the scene, the Habsburgs were forced by political reality to abandon the title of Holy Roman Emperor. Another thought assailed me, and it is this: that empires and dynasties are a lot like hurricanes. They rise, they attain great power, and then they fall in such a way that you might remember the words, ‘How are the mighty fallen’. A hurricane starts as a tropical system, then develops into a full blown high category storm – but you know what, no matter how many roofs they carry or cars they toss about like toys, they’ll eventually end up as simple tropical storms, little showers that sprinkle without much force. It leads one to remember the words of King Solomon, ‘Vanity upon vanity, all is vanity’.
This is the state of political ruins the once powerful Bush Dynasty lies in today. Why do we refer to the Bush family as a powerful dynasty?
Let’s see: Of the last nine US presidential elections, a Bush has been on the Republican ticket for six of them, and has won five. Thus one family has controlled the destiny of arguably the most powerful nation on earth for a majority of recent history.
Under the Bushes America has fought great wars that toppled foreign powers, created new forces and redrew maps. A Bush has held America’s nuclear codes for 12 of the last 28 years. They are about the most powerful dynasty in the modern age in several ways.
They have achieved politically what many other dynasties can only dream about: convince a fiercely egalitarian nation to give a father and a son their most powerful post in the land in the space of just a few years apart. With Jeb Bush’s entry into the 2016 race it seemed the Republican nomination and US presidency was theirs for the taking. In fact, Jeb Bush was able to raise more money than all the other Republican candidates combined even before he declared his intention to run.
But everything came crashing down unexpectedly like a pack of cards.In spite of the Bush allure in the Republican Party; in spite of the policy heft and personal brilliance of Jeb Bush, his candidature had not the energy of a fierce hurricane but rather that of a receding tropical storm.
What happened can only be described as a hungry outsider (Donald Trump) coming in from nowhere to upturn things; and that is one of the regular occurrences in empires – hungry outsiders, not the expected powerful insiders being the ones who eventually hijack the system.
It happened during the Chinese imperial period – in 2008 it was Obama snatching the rug from under the feet of the Clinton dynasty, and putting at least an 8 year delay on their next big chance to stake their claim to the Democratic Party’s nomination.
This year it is the turn of the Bush family of the Republican Party. Look, it was not because of Jeb Bush that Jeb Bush failed. It was in spite of Jeb Bush that Jeb Bush failed. One thing that can be deduced is that America loves dynastic politics but it also loves a refreshing outsider who can come up with a message they weren’t expecting to hear. If that outsider comes with such, they would like to listen. America may believe in dynasty, but one wrapped in egalitarianism not in entitlement.
Winning the fundraising battle is not all that matters anymore, and the frontrunner is not known until after the first few primaries, not anytime before. That’s the new rule the American electorate has handed to its political class, at least as far as the presidency is concerned.
The moment Obama won the 2012 election was when he abandoned his presidential demeanor and scolded Mitt Romney for stating that Hillary Clinton was responsible for the Benghazi debacle. The rules are in a flux.
So, what remains for Jeb Bush to do? The Bush Dynasty is down but like the Kennedys can continue to define the future of their party, even in the midst of other heavyweights like a Donald Trump. The presence of the Kennedys as the lynchpin of the Democratic Party has not stopped the Clintons from building their own power base. As the Trump era begins in the Republican Party, nothing says the Bush family cannot remain in the lynchpin zone like the Kennedys in the Democratic Party. But for that to happen Jeb has one more job to do. Become the conservative lion in the Senate.
He must embrace the role that Ted Kennedy embraced so that his family doesn’t transform from a dynasty with current relevance into yesterday’s dynasty.
George P Bush, the son of Jeb is currently holding a state political job in Texas. But without a Bush in the federal levels of politics, the Bush dynasty might lose whatever shine remains of it nationally. But with Jeb serving in the senate or in a stop-gap federal position before a senate opening the end has not come for the Bush dynasty.
The senate is a perfect arena for Jeb to help the next administration and his party with the benefit of his policy proposals, and so keep the Bush name alive in people’s minds, until George P Bush comes of age.
What would the Bush dynasty bring to the table apart from bragging rights? Some Americans remember the end of the cold war under HW Bush; others remember Bush junior’s Compassionate Conservatism. The Bush dynasty would have to decide on a message that will capture the hearts of the conservatives. CAVEAT IS: They shouldn’t just do it in the Trump era, because the Trump message is likely to be hot for at least 8 years as far as the Republican Party is concerned and whether a Democrat eventually wins the presidency in 2016 or not.
The Bush dynasty may take comfort in the historical fact that some dynasties eventually recover after a bad fall. Examples include the resurgent Clintons who waited out the Obama era; the Grimaldis of Monaco who once lost their principality and the Al Sauds of Saudi Arabia who once lost their tribal lands. But this year is the year of Trump.