Jeb Bush

Republicans face a nasty, drawn-out nomination fight that could shred the party’s chances even against a vulnerable President Obama and Democratic under-ticket.

But to the rescue last week came former Alabama Congressman Artur Davis, a four-term Democrat who urges Republicans to nominate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

GOP candidates are contending under new rules this year that increase the likelihood of a brokered convention when delegates assemble Aug. 27 in Tampa, Florida. Delegates are selected this year on a more proportional basis than the winner-take-all formulas previously.

They must vote only on the first ballot for primary and caucus winners, creating the potential for the kind of “brokered” conventions that were common in the past.

Two developments last week suggest that Bush is well-positioned to unite the party for a November ratification of the next stage of the Bush Dynasty:

Artur Davis

First was a column by Davis, right, Alabama’s most prominent Democrat until he lost his race for governor in 2010 amid suspicions he was getting too cozy with the state’s business and Republican power brokers.

On Jan. 24, he published in the National Review Online, “Draft Jeb Bush: A charismatic and accomplished governor can save the Republican Party.”

Davis, who became a friend of the older Obama when their attendance overlapped at Harvard Law School, continued in his National Review piece as follows:

Enter the last dream date that Republicans may have at their disposal. His name is Jeb Bush, and this time, there is a feasibility around the idea that seemed unthinkable months ago. To be sure, the Jeb scenario will need more instability in order to flourish.

The likeliest path involves Gingrich’s momentum carrying him through Florida; the February races in Arizona and Michigan dividing between Romney and Gingrich; Romney rebounding in March in moderate-leaning Midwestern states such as Illinois and Wisconsin; Gingrich winning easily in the Deep South on Super Tuesday and Texas in early April, with Romney proving equally strong in New York and the rest of the Atlantic coastline, while states like Ohio and Indiana fail to resolve the split.

Second, Bush published the next day an oped in the Washington Post, “Four ways Republicans can win Hispanics back.” Bush’s column adroitly underscored his stature as a party seer who is above current elective battles.

Also, his author’s bio identified him as co-chair of the Hispanic Leadership Network Conference. The title hints at a Bush relationship with minorities, much like the Davis endorsement implied. The Hispanic Network is a center-right affiliate of the American Action Network, a mainstream GOP organization of power players. The parent group’s leaders include former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, financier Frederic Malek and former Bush I White House Counsel Boyden Gray, whose connections include Freedom Works, which provides major funding for the Tea Party.

In recent years, Davis has disgraced himself in the eyes of many fellow Alabama Democrats. First, he failed as a member of the House Judiciary Committee to question the Bush Justice Department’s political prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman and similar victims. Then Davis lost his 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary in an especially inept way, as I reported for the Huffington Post, “Why Alabama Democrats Rejected Centrist Artur Davis, Obama’s Pal.” Davis then left elective politics for private legal work, with a parting shot of denouncing his critics in Nixon-like fashion.

Thus, the Davis enthusiasm for a Jeb Bush candidacy fits a pattern and complements Bush’s themes. Last week, Bush told CNN’s John King, “I don’t think a party can aspire to be the majority party if it’s the old white guy party.” The full interview video and transcript are here.

Is this just coincidence? Let’s look more closely at reasons that might prompt Republicans to nominate Jeb Bush at a brokered convention.

— Newt Gingrich’s ascendancy as the main rival to Mitt Romney guarantees fireworks, especially since Romney arguably started the nastiness with Super PAC ads that destroyed Gingrich in Iowa.

— Gingrich may have irreparably harmed Romney by forcing disclosure of his tax returns and otherwise transforming his image from venture capitalist-job creator to “vulture predator” jobs-manipulator and tax avoider. Washington Post column Columnist Dana Milbank, for example, reported, “Gingrich is Obama’s best surrogate.”

— But many in the Republican establishment are ganging up on Gingrich. Reflecting this, Post Chief Correspondent Dan Balz published, “Neither Romney nor Gingrich give GOP voters confidence of a White House win” and “The GOP empire strikes back at Gingrich.”

— The Citizens United decision and Super PACs make it easier for candidates to go negative in a big way with more ability to deny personal involvement than in the past.

— At least as important as any of this, Republicans changed their nominating rules this year in ways that can extend the battle far longer than in the past. The much-touted January contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida provide relatively few delegates, in part because the big prize of Florida is diminished by a reduced total of delegates because Florida is penalized for an early primary. Later contests divide up delegates on a proportional basis, enabling hopeful losers to stay in the race.

The grudge-match dynamic emerging between Romney and Gingrich makes reconciliation there difficult. And the niche platforms of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum provide strong incentive for each of them and their supporters to extend their campaigns all the way to the convention, especially the better-financed Paul.

Jeb Bush, left, George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama

You might wonder why, if such a Draft Bush scenario is a possibility, it isn’t it more prominent now in the news media.

The answer is that it’s not in the interests of the key players to describe their options. For one thing, the public would feel cheated if it becomes obvious too soon that the current debates, voting and other hoopla might not select the nominee. Therefore, Jeb Bush (or any other dark horse) must express interest only as a reluctant, last-minute volunteer drafted into public service by a grateful Republican Party, with the ideal climax cheering throngs in his home state as he launches a whirlwind campaign for the last two months with what his father once called, “The Big Mo.”

In the meantime, George H.W. Bush and Jeb had a chance to visit the White House the evening of Jan. 27. As portrayed above in a White House photo, they each look happy and comfortable. Should voters feel the same way in contemplating next November’s election?