Jeb Bush is now the main topic of discussion of the Washington political chattering class, specifically regarding whether he will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. After over four years in which he stayed mostly out of the political limelight, the former Florida governor is on television talk shows night after night, promoting his new book, Immigration Wars, co-authored with Republican attorney and policy guru Clint Bolick.
On virtually every show, Jeb is asked whether he will run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. His answer is invariably the same – that he has not yet made a decision, that he has decided to defer any consideration of it until the proper time … which is more than a year from now, for sure. It is known that his brother, former President George W. Bush is encouraging him to run.
Translated: Jeb Bush definitely wants to run for president in 2016. Whether he will decide to run is another matter.
The speculation regarding a Jeb Bush run for the White House will nevertheless increase over the next year, and so will his media appearances. My good friend, leading New Jersey Republican intellectual and Tom Kean biographer Alvin Felzenberg has paraphrased the Star Wars trilogy and labeled Jeb’s public reemergence as the Return of the Jebi.
Because of the possible presidential candidacy of Republican Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush will have to make a decision within the next year. In virtually every poll of Republican voters as to their preference for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, Rubio leads the currently perceived field.
Jeb was an important mentor of Rubio during Marco’s years in the Florida House of Representatives and his 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate. I have little doubt that Rubio will refrain from running if Jeb announces his presidential candidacy prior to July, 2014. In fact, I think that under these circumstances, Rubio would endorse Jeb. This endorsement would be a powerful factor in Jeb’s winning the support of movement conservatives, whose allegiance is largely at the present time to Rubio.
With regard to Rubio, however, Jeb cannot wait to announce his presidential candidacy much beyond the aforesaid July, 2014 date. If Rubio sees the rest of the 2016 GOP presidential nomination field outpacing him while Jeb remains undecided, he may not be willing to wait for a Bush decision any longer and enter the race himself.
So we can well expect that Jeb Bush will make a decision as to his potential GOP presidential candidacy by this time this year. If he decides to run, he brings a number of significant assets to his campaign.
Jeb Bush was one of the greatest governors in America over the last half century. His accomplishments in the areas of economic development, job creation, tax reform, and Everglades protection won him national acclaim. This would give him a significant appeal to independents nationwide in a general election contest, outweighing any “Bush fatigue” these voters may feel.
Jeb Bush also has a powerful appeal to Hispanic voters. He speaks fluent Spanish, and his wife, Colombia was born in Mexico. The significance of the Jeb Bush appeal to Hispanic voters cannot be understated. The major problem the Republican Party now has nationally is demographic, as demonstrated most graphically by the overwhelming rejection by African-American and Hispanic voters in 2008 and 2012 of John McCain and Mitt Romney, respectively. Jeb Bush’s credibility in the Hispanic community would at long last begin to abate this GOP national disadvantage.
Assuming Rubio would refrain from running for president and instead support Jeb, the former Florida governor would begin his campaign assured of the support of virtually all the delegates of two significant states: Florida and Texas, the home of former Texas governor and U.S. President George W. Bush. If Jeb Bush added to this total by winning some early key GOP presidential primaries, he would be virtually assured of a first ballot presidential nomination.
The question then becomes who his opponents would be in these primaries. One cannot predict with any certainty which of the other potential GOP presidential candidates would then choose not to run, except for one – U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who definitely would stay in the race.
In the area of foreign affairs, Rand Paul’s isolationism would be a significant departure from the foreign policy conservatism of Ronald Reagan, as exemplified by the 40th president’s support for a strong national defense and traditional alliances. In a Jeb Bush-Rand Paul GOP presidential nomination contest, Jeb would be the avatar of Reaganism, while Paul would be the embodiment of the new libertarian isolationism. This would be a real battle for the soul of the GOP.
One should be wary of underestimating the isolationist appeal of Rand Paul to a generation of young voters who have little or no historical memory of either the Second World War or the Cold War. I think that Jeb Bush would prevail in such a contest, however.
Jeb’s likely Democratic opponent in the 2016 general election would then be Hillary Clinton. Such a Bush-Clinton race for the White House would be a true “Battle of the Titans”, generating overwhelming national interest.
So will Jeb Bush run or won’t he? I doubt that he has yet to decide. All I can say is, stay tuned.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.