Bush, Bush, Dole, Bush, Bush, McCain, Romney … Bush?
As with all major political developments, foreign and domestic, my thoughts turn to one question: What does this mean for Romney 2016?
As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.
In January, I also plan to establish a Leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation. The PAC’s purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.
In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.
Today, my friends, David Frum speaks for all Republicans:
In this magnificent land of opportunity, anyone can aspire to the presidency, provided only that an immediate relative had the job already.
— David Frum (@davidfrum) December 16, 2014
Yep, although the most likely match-up in 2016 is even more incestuous than that. Remember, Bill Clinton has become good friends with the Bushes, to the point where Dubya now kids that he’s a “brother from another mother” and that Hillary is his “sister-in-law.” Another Bush/Clinton race wouldn’t be a contest between two dynastic families. It would, effectively, be an intramural contest within one.
A few points. One: I’m guessing that Jeb, left to his own devices, would have preferred to announce this early next month after holiday distractions have passed and political media is rested and ready for primary season. He jumped early, I take it, because of the 2016 noises from Romney’s camp, replete with the launch of the “Ready for Romney” PAC yesterday. Mitt might be the one guy out there who could hurt Bush badly by gobbling up establishment money among the GOP’s donor class. Jeb’s getting the jump on him in nailing down bundlers.
Two: Needless to say, this makes a Romney run unlikely and a Rubio run really unlikely. If you believe the rumors, Romney’s no longer of the mind that he’ll definitely pass on the race if Jeb runs — and that’s probably true, technically. But since job one for the establishment is uniting around a single champion early, it means Romney will likely only challenge Jeb if Bush falters early and RINOs decide they need a white knight. Which is unlikely: Bush is already polling near the top of the nascent field in several polls thanks to his last name. The Bush brand may be an albatross for most of the country but I’m not sure it’s much baggage among the center-righties he’s counting on in the primaries. As for Rubio, who’s planning to host a “what should I run for in 2016?” event with prospective donors next month, he’s probably been squeezed out by Jeb. They share a donor and staffer base in Florida; Bush, the more well connected pol, will have de facto first dibs. If Rubio runs anyway, where does he get his money and infrastructure?
Three: Rubio’s bad luck is good luck for the fledgling GOP Senate majority. Holding Rubio’s seat in Florida would have been a heavy lift for Republicans given that the state’s been trending blue and that, in a presidential election year, Democratic turnout is bound to be higher. Having Rubio running for reelection as an incumbent gives the party its best chance of winning. Imagine if Jeb runs for president and loses but Rubio, forced to run for Senate again, wins and gives the GOP an oh-so-narrow 51-seat majority in 2017. The GOP could owe its control of Congress to the Bushes’ power-lust!
Four: Even as I write this, conservatives are scoffing on Twitter that Bush is way overhyped and will flame out badly in the primaries. I disagree, and I refer you to the opening line of this post to see why. There are a lot — a lot — of low-information “somewhat conservative” voters who won’t particularly care that Jeb supports Common Core or immigration reform; he’ll have hundreds of millions of dollars behind him to give him a rosy glow on early-state TV sets. He probably can’t win Iowa, especially if Christie or Romney runs and splits the centrist vote with him, but I’m not sure why he can’t win New Hampshire, South Carolina (which just reelected Lindsey Graham, remember), and of course Florida. He’s smart and polished and he’ll have big-name establishmentarians like Rove slobbering all over him in the media for months to come. How many times do we need to see a McCain or Romney nominated before we internalize the reality that yes, Jeb Bush has a decent chance?
Five: I wonder how long it’ll take the primary campaign to become a “Jeb versus Not Jeb” dynamic, or if that’ll happen at all. Maybe it won’t; the 2008 campaign, which had a relatively big field, never quite turned into a “McCain versus Not McCain” thing for conservatives. The 2012 field, which was smaller and overshadowed by Romney, did of course end up as a “Romney versus Not Romney” thing for awhile. The 2016 field looks more like 2008: There’ll be lots of different flavors of conservatism out there for voters early on so there’s no need to unite against the dynasty just yet. But what happens if Jeb wins New Hampshire and is polling well in South Carolina ahead of the primary, with just one or two other Republicans — say, Scott Walker and Rand Paul — still with a shot to win? Does that become a “Jeb versus Not Bush” race, with Paul fans grudgingly uniting behind Walker or vice versa? Or does the field stay splintered to the bitter end? The more the latter is true, the better Jeb’s chances become.
Update: A belated exit question: Will we see any more candidates jump in before New Year’s? Typically when one big name jumps, others jump soon after, partly to deny the guy who’s already in the chance to woo wealthy donors as a declared candidate and partly to deny him time alone in the media spotlight. Wouldn’t surprise me if Christie, at least, has to move more quickly since he’s Jeb’s most direct competition. Wouldn’t surprise me to see Paul get in either since he’s all but declared already.
Update: To put it mildly:
Jeb Bush boomlet, like the Mitt Romney one before it, doesn't show much establishment confidence in Chris Christie.
— Jim Antle (@jimantle) December 16, 2014
Update: Why did Jeb announce on Facebook? WaPo anticipated it yesterday: “[Jeb’s advisors’] thinking is that Bush, who was last on a ballot in 2002, would need to be aggressive and digitally savvy, challenging any impressions that he is an establishment moderate with sclerotic campaign skills.” Facebook is their way of trying to convince people that he’s not rusty. That’s also why he’s said he’ll release an “e-book” this coming year, not a standard hardcover. He’s all techy ‘n stuff! Except:
Jeb announcing on Facebook = smart. Not using opportunity to collect initial round data/email addresses = not so smart.
— Peter Hamby (@PeterHamby) December 16, 2014