SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Jeb Bush’s strength, and his challenge, as a presidential candidate is right there in his last name.
Shared with two former presidents who happen to be his father and brother, the Bush name comes with national recognition, a deep pool of donors and campaign alumni that the former Florida governor can tap as he explores a 2016 White House bid. The Bush name is also a reminder of the past in a political culture focused on the future, and it suggests the creation of a political dynasty that could become even more marked if the Democratic candidate is Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Bush, 61, the son of George H.W. Bush and younger brother of George W. Bush, announced Tuesday that he will “actively explore” a presidential race and created a political action committee to raise money.
His step further into the 2016 arena will speed up the pace of the presidential race and broaden the ideological range of the GOP primary debate. Bush’s position favoring an immigration overhaul offers the opportunity for Republican outreach to Hispanic voters— but also the possibility of deepening the divide within the GOP itself.
The built-in advantages of a third presidential prospect in the same family are considerable. “He is a Bush. He’s going to bring in a lot of money to the table right away and a lot of organization right away,” says Bob Vander Plaats, president and executive director of The Family Leader, a conservative organization based in Iowa, where the first presidential caucus will be held early in 2016.
“There’s a team out there ready to help Jeb,” says Barry Wynn, a veteran fundraiser in South Carolina and former state party chairman, who says he’ll support Bush if he runs. “It’s not going to be like instant pudding, where you just add water. But I do think there’s an infrastructure there that no other candidate has.”
Other Republicans who publicly say they are thinking about a presidential run, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, need to hustle to keep their options open, says Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.
“Right now, they are banging on the phones, talking to donors and activists in early primary states and saying, ‘Look, we’ll make a decision soon. Don’t make any commitments before we make any decision,’ ” Madden says. “The key goal now is to keep any staff, big donors or big activists from making a commitment right off the bat and to keep their powder dry.”
Marco Rubio, the first-term Florida senator considering a 2016 run, may quickly find his home state’s Republican money and resources diverted.
Rubio “is a really good guy, but Jeb Bush is the 800-pound gorilla in Florida politics,” says Brian Ballard, a Florida lobbyist who raised money for McCain and Romney. He said he he would back a Bush candidacy. “Florida is financially and electorally off-limits for any other candidate.”
That includes Christie, who has spent the past year making friends as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. “Bless his heart, he helped (re-elect Gov.) Rick Scott,” Ballard says. “But Jeb Bush in Florida is a superhero.”
Outside Florida, Bush would face some super hurdles. Two of his signature issues — immigration and education — are controversial among core conservatives in early states.
Bush, a Spanish speaker whose wife, Columba, was born in Mexico, favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the USA — a position opposed by Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also a potential candidate.
Bush could attract “significant” support from Hispanic voters as a Republican nominee, says Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, which supports a process for some undocumented immigrants to become citizens. “But the question is, can he survive the primaries, given how the GOP has lurched to the right on immigration? I’m hoping yes, but I’m betting no.”
Bush also favors Common Core, educational standards adopted by many states in 2010 that face increasing opposition from conservatives. “People believe that government has got way to much overreach on education as it is, and Common Core puts it on steroids,” Vander Plaats says. “If you’re in favor of Common Core, the (Iowa caucus) hurdle becomes almost insurmountable.”
Bush ran his last campaign in 2002 and has been out of office since 2007, well before the advent of digital campaign strategies for online advertising and voter targeting — though he did announce his decision to explore on Twitter and Facebook.
“He’s missed the rise of the Tea Party and may not be fluent in speaking Tea,” says Ari Fleischer, former spokesman for George W. Bush. On the other hand, not being in the daily fray would allow Jeb Bush to “rise above” and stay focused on “the overriding aspirational issues that rally people to his cause.”
It also means many voters won’t know much about his record as governor of Florida, let alone have any kind of visceral associations with him as they might Christie (the fleece-wearing, take-charge guy of Superstorm Sandy) or Rand Paul (the anti-drone filibuster).
Bush’s potential to be the GOP nominee will depend in part on whether the party’s establishment wing can convince more conservative activists that the party’s nominee must be able to reach new constituencies, not just speak to its base.
Bush has to be considered a front-runner for the nomination immediately, says Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “History tells us to bet on the establishment candidate.”
“He’s made it very clear he wants to be a general election candidate, which means he wants to run for the middle immediately. There’s one thing that changed since his brother ran and that is the country is more polarized,” Vander Plaats says. “Too many of us who have been there, done that have been told you run to the middle and you win the presidency. Well, the last time we had President Romney and President McCain, and that didn’t happen.”