Two weeks ago, I authored a column for PolitickerNJ.com entitled “Jeb: Will He or Won’t He?” In that column, I discussed the impact his candidacy would have on the race for the GOP presidential nomination, without actually predicting whether or not he would run.
The answer was not long in coming. The announcement came yesterday via the social media:
“I am excited to announce I will actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.”
—Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Translation: Barring some unforeseen event, he’s running, folks.
Now for some predictions and observations about the forthcoming Jeb Bush candidacy. I do not base these on any “inside knowledge” I may have, but rather on my own political knowledge about the history of the persons and places involved.
1. The “money primary” starts soon. Bill Clinton’s victory in the 1992 election money primary made him the frontrunner. I expect that Jeb Bush will win the money primary overwhelmingly and will likewise become the early frontrunner. I believe that originally, it was not Jeb’s plan to seek the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Key elements of the GOP donor class pushed him to run because they felt he was the most viable GOP center-right candidate possibility. As governor of Florida, he was unquestionably conservative, scandal free, and popular throughout his tenure, as shown by polls at that time. Now that he will run, the donor class members will respond in great numbers with major donations, all wanting to be the first in line.
2. Forget about Romney running. No way. His association with Jonathan Gruber of ObamaCare fame finishes him. There was talk of a Romney Redux a few months ago when the donor class was dissatisfied with its center-right options. Now that Jeb will be in the race, any rationale for Romney’s candidacy is gone.
3. There are a number of prospective candidates who based their hopes for the White House on the possibility of a strong showing in the money primary. If Jeb wins the money primary by a landslide, as I believe he will, the question is whether these prospective candidates will stay in or pull out, perhaps by withdrawing in favor of Jeb – in the hopes of landing a position in a Bush 45 administration.
4. As I have said in previous columns, if Jeb wins both the early primaries of New Hampshire and South Carolina, he scores an early knockout victory and wins the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. After these states comes the primary in his home state of Florida, which Jeb will win easily by a landslide.
5. Jeb will not bypass the Iowa caucuses, but he does not have to win in the Hawkeye State. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all lost the Iowa caucuses in the year they were initially elected President of the United States. Rand Paul has a real chance of winning the Iowa caucuses. In any event, Paul is the one opponent of Jeb you can expect to remain in the race, regardless of how he fares in the early primaries and caucuses. He will retain the allegiance of the libertarians, one of the four principle GOP national constituencies, the other three being 1) the donor class; 2) the movement conservatives; and 3) the center-right Republicans.
6. Jeb will make a strong effort to gain endorsements from two U. S. Senators whose backing can give him a critical advantage in the must-win states mentioned above: Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Ayotte is the most popular politician in New Hampshire, and Graham has proven to be a most durable center-right force in a state with significant movement conservative and libertarian constituencies.
7. In some movement conservative quarters, Jeb Bush is being castigated for being a “moderate Republican,” running in a 2016 campaign where party conservatives are perceived as resurgent. Specifically, he is being criticized for his support for the Common Core education standards and his advocacy of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Yet as Laura Meckler noted the past Tuesday, December 16 in an article she authored for the Wall Street Journal, as governor of Florida, Jeb Bush was perceived to be a staunch conservative. Ms. Meckler notes that as the chief executive of the Sunshine State, Jeb championed tax cuts, privatized state jobs, fought for school vouchers, won power over the judiciary and labored to prolong the life of a brain-damaged woman, Terry Schiavo. This conservative record should go a long way in at least persuading movement conservatives that Jeb Bush is not a “closet moderate.”
I wrote about the Common Core issue in my aforesaid column, “Jeb: Will He or Won’t He?” (http://politickernj.com/2014/12/jeb-will-he-or-wont-he/), noting that this education program has its origin as a conservative Republican initiative with ideological roots to be found in the past advocacy of conservatives Lynne Cheney and former Education Secretary Bill Bennett. As for Jeb’s immigration position, this could actually become a positive for him in GOP primaries if his opponents fail to propound credible alternatives.
8. What may be a more difficult situation for Jeb among both movement conservatives and neoconservatives is any perception that he maintains any association with Bush 41 foreign policymakers James Baker, Bush 41 Secretary of State, and Brent Scowcroft, Bush 41 National Security Advisor. Strong support for Israel on the part of a presidential candidate is an absolute must for both movement conservatives and neoconservatives. Both Baker and Scowcroft were viewed as at best lukewarm and at worst outright hostile towards the Jewish State. Baker and Scowcroft had virtually no influence on George W. Bush on the issue of the Israel-Arab conflict. Bush 43 maintained a very pro-Israel policy, which won him the allegiance of both movement conservatives and neoconservatives. Jeb Bush has always advocated a pro-Israel foreign policy virtually identical to that of the Bush 43 administration. He should continue to do so and avoid giving any place at the table to Baker or Scowcroft.
9. As I have said in previous columns, if Jeb does not win the primary election trifecta of New Hampshire-South Carolina-Florida, he may face a formidable challenge in the later Midwestern primaries from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker – if he runs. Walker was the major winner of all the candidates on Election Day 2014. He is strong in the Midwestern states and is the darling of movement conservatives. It is not clear at this point if Walker will run. If Jeb does win the nomination, Walker would be one of two individuals who would make an ideal vice presidential running mate, the other being Ohio U.S. Senator Rob Portman.
Walker would retain the loyalty of movement conservatives for the GOP presidential ticket, and he would have an excellent chance of enabling Jeb to win the 10 electoral votes of Wisconsin, a state that the GOP presidential ticket has not carried since the Reagan-Bush landslide of 1984.
As for Portman, his presence on the national ticket could enable Bush to win the 18 electoral votes in Ohio, a state without which no GOP presidential ticket has won the White House in modern American political history. As a former director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under Bush 43, Portman has an encyclopedic knowledge of federal programs that would enable him to easily prevail over his Democratic opponent in any vice presidential debate.
It is too early to venture a prediction of the ultimate outcome of Jeb Bush’s campaign for the White House. As a veteran of the Bush 43 administration, I can make one statement unequivocally. The Bush family retains the unwavering loyalty and affection of virtually every person, including myself, who at any time served in a Bush administration or campaign. These individuals constitute an effective national political network now available to Jeb Bush. And the network is ready to roll.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.