Skip to comments.2016 Republican Presidential Update: A New, Familiar Name at the Top: Jeb Bush Leads the Pack.
Posted on 03/20/2014 7:22:44 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
In our first ranking of the very large and very unsettled 2016 Republican presidential field back in April of last year, we decided to not even include the name of one of the brightest stars in the GOP universe: Jeb Bush. We just didnt think, at the time, that the former Florida governor and brother and son of presidents was all that interested in running.
But during 2013 and into this new year, weve gotten the sense, like many others, that things might be changing. So much so that we now consider Bush the leader of the field if he decides to run.
There are several reasons, and one of the most important does not have much to do with Bush, at least on the surface: Chris Christies bridge scandal.
To understand the potential importance of laffaire bridge in determining whether Jeb Bush might run for president, we need to look back at the 2012 presidential cycle.
In the late summer of 2011, the Bush family surveyed the seemingly finalized Republican presidential primary field and apparently didnt like what they saw. As reported by Dan Balz in Collision 2012 and Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in Double Down, Chris Christie received a phone call from former President George W. Bush in August 2011. Bush and Christie talked for 45 minutes about the pluses and minuses of running for president. Shortly thereafter, Christies wife, Mary Pat, got a call from former First Lady Barbara Bush, who described the benefits of raising a family in the White House. Christie also sat down with Bush consigliere Karl Rove and consulted with other Republican heavyweights, some close to the Bushes and some not.
Christie, who at the time was in the middle of just his second year as New Jerseys governor, eventually decided to pass on the race.
While many have observed that Christies recent troubles have created an opening for Jeb Bush, theres another connection to be made: With Christie damaged, the Bush family might have lost its preferred 2016 candidate, leaving a void that only a Bush can fill. Enter Jeb, who apparently shares — or at least shared — his familys affection for Christie (I love the guy, Bush said of Christie in March 2013).
In mid-November, as Christie was basking in his 60% reelection victory, Politicos Ben White reported on Jeb Bushs not-quite 50/50 chances of running, citing several Wall Street and Washington sources. One factor in Bushs decision-making was Christie, whose star at that precise moment could not have shined brighter. Essentially, if Christie was obviously putting together a strong campaign, that would probably keep Bush out; but if he wasnt, that could induce Bush to enter.
Of course, we know what happened in the months that followed: Christie took a major hit as the bridge-closing story exploded. Christies problems have only elevated Bush by comparison, and the two men would occupy similar space in a hypothetical primary contest: The same voters and states that backed the successful nominations of John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 — i.e. the ones with smaller concentrations of very conservative and white evangelical voters like New Hampshire, Florida and many Midwestern states — would probably be inclined to back one of these two or someone like them.
For all the sturm und drang regarding the Tea Party in the Republican nominating process, its going to be hard for someone who lacks widespread establishment support — like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) or Ted Cruz (R-TX) — to win the nomination. Political science research indicates that endorsements from sitting officeholders and party leaders can be quite predictive of presidential nominees.
And that leads us to another reason to take a potential Bush candidacy seriously: The establishment loves him.
In recent months, weve noticed an unmistakable and widespread desire among some of the Republicans we talk to, particularly ones who would be classified as members of the establishment on and off Capitol Hill, for a third Bush nominee in less than three decades. In one conversation, we mentioned several other potential candidates on our list, but the chatter kept coming back to Jeb. He was the only candidate with whom these party leaders appeared to be comfortable.
A preference for a Bush candidacy is inspired, we think, by a natural conservatism among political party leaders in searching for presidential candidates. The parties want someone who is a proven commodity capable of running a strong campaign and raising a Fort Knox of gold without much hand-holding. Its a preference for the safest choice, and its got nothing to do with a political belief system. The desire amongst the vast majority of Democratic leaders for Hillary Clinton to run in 2016 stems from the same kind of conservative impulse. Compared to riskier nominees, Clinton, like Bush, would be an anodyne choice. This is the kind of establishment impulse that drives activists, particularly conservative ones, batty. But its also a decent strategy for actually winning elections — the no surprises approach.
The implications of a Bush candidacy would be wide-reaching, and — to be clear — we dont know if hes running. He probably doesnt know himself. The reason were putting him first now is that if he were to run, wed see him as a modest favorite over the other potential candidates in the field, and he might be the one Republican whose entry could keep other candidates out. For instance, Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are close, and many observers doubt that they would run against one another in a presidential contest. (Bushs son, George P., just appeared at two Palm Beach fundraisers for Rubio; the younger Bush is running for land commissioner, a statewide elected office in Texas.) That said, stranger things have happened in politics than a hypothetical Bush vs. Rubio matchup in a GOP primary field: Political alliances are often written in pencil, not pen.
Perhaps Christie will recover to the point where he is again seen as a viable contender, in which case Bush could take a pass and back him or someone else (like Rubio). Granted, that seems preposterous given how damaged Christie is now. Yes, Christie retains the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, but he rarely appears in public in that role these days. For instance, he ducked the national press at the recent National Governors Association conference in Washington, and earlier this week the RGA sent out a statement praising vulnerable Gov. Rick Scotts (R-FL) economic record not from Christie, but from Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV). Presidential candidates usually arent nominated if they reside in the isolation ward.
Christie benefits from Americans very short attention spans and his own political talent, which is considerable and probably superior to anyone else mentioned as a candidate. But he might be cooked nationally, anyway — its just not obvious to us one way or the other at this point. In a way, Bushs machinations going forward might be as much of an indication of how national Republicans view Christies viability as anything else.
Perhaps another weathervane is Bushs mother, Barbara, who recently softened her stance against the idea of another Bush presidency after saying last year that the country has had enough Bushes.
Aside from moving Jeb Bush to the top of our list, we left the rest of the list mostly the same. Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) remains, to us, an intriguing option for Republicans, although he has a liability we have heretofore not mentioned: Walker never finished college, although its worth noting that only 47% of Americans who voted in 2012 were college graduates, according to the exit poll. Walker has a useful comeback, of course: The last president not to have a college degree was Harry Truman, and hes ranked near great by most historians. Okay, we can already hear Democrats chanting, We knew Harry Truman, he was a friend of ours, and Scott Walker, youre no Harry Truman!
Finally, a recent e-mail dump in an investigation of Walkers associates for campaign shenanigans didnt really contain any major red flags as far as we could tell. It also goes without saying that Walker needs to win reelection this November to be a presidential contender.
Table 1 shows our updated presidential ratings:
|Candidate||Key Advantages||Key Disadvantages||Since Last Update|
|Strong gubernatorial resume
Key swing state
National Bush money and organization
|Wrong last name (Bush dynasty) — although Clinton dynasty could neutralize this
George W. Bush’s record?
Does he actually want to run?
|Midwest GOP gov. in Obama state
Heroic conservative credentials
Shown political durability
|Too bland? Next Pawlenty?
Do lingering scandals hurt him?
No college degree
|Tea Party favorite
Strong support from libertarian GOP wing
National ID and fundraising network
|Too dovish/eclectic for GOP tastes?
Association with out-of-mainstream father
|Chris Christie Governor, NJ||Dynamic speaker
Shown ability to pursue mainly conservative agenda in Blue state
Could bridge criticism by media rally the right?
|Bridge scandal still playing out
Bullying and out-of-control-staff questions
Not conservative enough for base?
|Dynamic speaker and politician
From most electorally valuable swing state
|Future tough votes in Senate; has and will have federal record
Did his national star peak too soon?
Could he really deliver more Hispanic votes?
|Tea Party favorite with voting record to match
Texas and small dollar fundraising
Anti-establishment nature plays well with base
|Tea Party favorite
Too extreme? One word: Shutdown.
Disliked on both sides of the Senate aisle
Long conservative record
Could be fallback for GOP establishment forces
|Supported Medicaid expansion
Makes verbal miscues, lots of video from time as Fox host
|2012 VP candidate — next in line?
General election experience
Strong conservative record
|May not want to run, possibly positioning self for future in House
Not a dynamic campaigner
|Extensive governing experience
Blue collar appeal
Strong support from social conservatives
Southerner in Southern-centered party
|Too narrow appeal within party?
Disliked by economic conservatives
Small fundraising base
|Very well qualified; vast government experience
From key swing state
Supports same-sex marriage
|More insider than leading man
Crowded out by fellow Ohioan Kasich?
Supports same-sex marriage
|Diversity in party sorely in need of it
Electoral success in Blue state
Compelling life story/record
Frequently disavows interest in running
|Strong support from social conservatives
2nd place finisher in ‘12 — next in line?
Been around primary track
|Harder to stand out in stronger 2016 field
Lost last Senate race by 17%
|Showing clear improvement as a candidate — second chance mentality
Strong conservative credentials
Extensive executive experience
|Ran very poor 2012 race
More Texas in a nation that is not as conservative as the Lone Star State
Oops, we forgot the rest
After moving Bush from our wild card column all the way up to No. 1, we are adding a couple names to the wild card portion: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Gov. Susana Martinez (R-NM). Both would bring a bit of diversity to the field: Portman through a notable issue position (he supports gay marriage while otherwise being a stalwart conservative) and Martinez through her background (in addition to being Hispanic, shes the only woman on the list and also, depending on how one classifies Texas, the only westerner). One of us spelled out Portmans potential in a recent column for Politico Magazine. Ultimately, we think Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) is the likelier Ohioan in the field (assuming he wins reelection), and Martinez is probably more of a vice presidential contender at this point. But both merit mention on an ever-growing list of possibilities.
We fully admit that we may be underestimating our Also Rans. Rick Santorums blunt, social conservative substance and style has undying appeal to Republicans who would rather be right than be president. Compromise, hell no! is their slogan. And Rick Perry is bouncing back as a much better candidate, at least in his early outings, than he appeared to be in his disastrous 2012 incarnation. Observers should never underestimate the fierce conservatism of much of the Republican base. Yet we think most of the GOP, after its 2008 and 2012 drubbings, is determined not to make a mistake in picking its 2016 candidate; the party is looking for a nominee who can actually get to 270 electoral votes in November, and not just in their pre-election imaginings.
Reality check: There are 963 days to the 2016 presidential election. So there will be plenty of time to read the tea leaves, and the Republican field remains highly fluid. Weve moved up Jeb Bush, but this is in no way, shape or form a firm prediction hell be the nominee. Rather, we just wanted to reflect what weve been hearing in the early stages of 2016s invisible primary. If anything, the elevation of Bush — who very well may not even run — is just another indication that while Republicans should have a decent chance to win the White House in 2016, they will probably have to sort themselves out in a rather dramatic primary first — not to mention use good judgment and accept some painful realities about the changing American electorate.
We have no updates at this time to our rankings of the 2016 Democratic contenders — the field remains contingent on Hillary Clintons decision — but for an assessment of the prospects of Vice President Joe Biden (D) and a broader look at the vice presidency as a presidential stepping stone, please take a look at Joel Goldsteins piece in todays Crystal Ball.
If Obama runs as a Republican, can he have a third term?
The NJ fat boi is done. Bushies are done. Sabato is whistling past the graveyard.
He has to be kidding.
I wouldn’t count Jeb out quite yet. Not that I like him any more than you do, but we’re not the deciders, the GOP elitists are, and they control the money and influence.
Because our side also has its share of low-information voters.
Seeing what a disaster Deathcare has become we should be thanking him!
Ted Cruz: Disliked on both sides of the Senate aisle
That is a Net Positive, not Negative!
This is all the author’s wishful thinking. Recent polls have Jeb “el Heffe” Bush near the bottom.
Great a idea, a third Bush is a charm.
Plus they don’t need orientation and a tour to move back in the WH saving our $$$.
“Miss Bush yet?” OWF does.
You have to always remember that this guy is your standard-issue liberal and nothing he says can be taken seriously. For a real nobody he sure knows how to get press, though.
At least the Blimp is fading fast.
Sabato has a screw loose
Stay out da Bushes.
So the establishment loves him. Good reason not to vote for him, even if his last name was not Bush.
No Bush is going to win the White House in 2016, people still remember the Iraq War and the financial crisis happened on the last Bush’s watch.
And the Bush before him got thrown out after lying on taxes and a mediocre presidency.
Exactly what have the Bushes done to deserve a third President in the White House?
I sure wish more folks would have expressed that same sentiment in the fall of 1999 through March of 2000.
I’d like to second that emotion... all in favor signify by posting an aye on thisl thread...
NO WAY will I ever vote for Jeb Bush.
This list is a joke. He identifies differnet negatives than any freeper would
If the GOPe forces Jeb or someone like Christie, THE GOP is cooked/finished. They can commit suicide if they like, it is up to them.
This is an "academic" source.