Why is George Bush President?
Matt Yglesias asks this question today, with a follow-up from Kevin Drum. Specifically, he says:
There was no reason whatsoever back in 1994 to think that George W. Bush was the best choice the Republicans had to run for governor of Texas — he was totally unqualified. His entire political career has been utterly devoid of real accomplishments, he’s just a kind of inept loafer relying on his father’s name and connections, and the assistance of more competent people willing to humble themselves by working for him.
The answer, I think, is that the Republican party leadership – fiercely determined and extremely disciplined – were able to arrange some unprecedented coordination before the primary season. In the late 1990s, various factions of the Republican Party, bitter after several years of a Democrat in the White House (and their failure to impeach Clinton), were casting about for the candidate for President in 2000. And then something remarkable happened, in 1998 and 1999 – the leaders of those various factions (I don’t mean individuals, but rather small groups of individuals) were able to agree that George W. Bush was both acceptable to each faction and appealing to the general electorate. With this agreement, they were able to unite the vast majority of Republicans – and Republican money – behind Bush’s candidacy. This gave him the giant head start that an otherwise mediocre candidate would need to win the presidency.
So the next question is: what was it about GWB that caused Republicans to unite behind him so early in the political cycle? I won’t go into details about my opinion right now, but I think it had to do with a few simple traits. Bush was: the heir to a nationally prominent family name; deeply conservative while having a moderate public image; well-connected with the national Republican establishment; from a large, vote-rich state; a governor; personally likeable; and popular in his home state. If you’re a Republican looking for a candidate with this sort of resume in 1999, there’s exactly one person who fit the description. And among the American public, these facts were able to mask the fact that Bush was not really qualified to be President.