Jeb Bush’s announcement yesterday that he will explore a presidential campaign shakes up an already crowded Republican field. The former Florida governor has not officially declared his candidacy but with just over a year to go before the voting starts, candidates tend not to establish exploratory committees unless they intend to run.
As a former governor of one of the biggest swing states, Mr. Bush would ordinarily vault to the first tier of candidates. However, given his breadth of political skills and background, he may be the early frontrunner. In addition to his famous name, Mr. Bush is viewed as a moderate with strong ties to the party leadership. He is well-spoken and not given to gaffes or gratuitously controversial statements. Given that, Mr. Bush will be able to position himself as electable without much trouble. The Bush name should be enough to convince the party’s base that he is far enough to the right.
But Mr. Bush may find it challenging to live down his still unpopular brother. Should he win the nomination Jeb Bush will have the added advantage of not having to worry about accusations of being part of a political dynasty as that charge will not be taken seriously if it comes likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
It is a reflection of Mr. Bush’s electability and impact on the race that within hours of his announcement, Nate Silver wrote a piece provocatively titled “Is Jeb Bush Too Liberal To Win The Republican Nomination In 2016?” This is precisely the kind of media coverage that bolsters Mr. Bush’s appeal to Republicans who are simply looking for a win in 2016. Mr. Silver asks the question, “But is Bush in the mold of Jon Huntsman and Rudy Giuliani — candidates who generated lots of buzz among the East Coast media elite but proved too moderate for the Republican base? Or is he more like the past two Republican nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain[?]” Mr. Silver concludes that Mr. Bush is “probably more like Romney or McCain than like Huntsman or Giuliani.” adding “Bush is not especially moderate by the standard of recent GOP nominees.”
Mr. Bush’s candidacy has already changed the contour of the race. Shortly after the announcement one Republican analyst emailed to tell me that “This move by him [Mr. Bush] screws four people–Rubio, Perry, Christie and Romney.” If Jeb Bush runs, fellow Floridian Marco Rubio will no longer be the favorite son of his large and delegate-rich state; Mitt Romney and Chris Christie will have to compete with Mr. Bush for the centrist wing of the party (and establishment donors); the direct impact of Mr. Bush on Mr. Perry, who is probably a weaker candidate anyway, is less clear.
The Republican analyst, who is not working for any candidate, then went on to speculate bout who would be a good running mate for Mr. Bush, as if his nomination is a fait accompli. But it is too early to crown Mr. Bush; the primary will still be competitive. Movement conservatives like Ted Cruz, or others who are considering the race, are not going to be scared off by Mr. Bush. In fact, they will probably redouble their commitment to the race because of their disdain for Mr. Bush’s moderate views. Similarly, Rand Paul will continue to seek to move the party to his libertarian brand of Republican politics. Mr. Bush has a long way to go between today and the nomination, but recent history has shown the for Republicans being an early front-runner, and being a Bush, can both be extremely helpful in securing the nomination.
Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.