Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has just announced that he will “actively explore” a 2016 presidential run. Among other things, the decision means that we face the specter of another Bush v. Clinton race a full 24 years after the first one, which isn’t exactly a scintillating prospect.
In fact, a Bush or Clinton has lived in the White House for 20 of the last 26 years, and that doesn’t count the eight previous years in which George Bush Sr. served as vice president. It’s almost as if the two families have 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on a time-share basis.
That said, I think Bush’s decision is good news. I disagree with him on a whole raft of issues, but he’s a smart guy, serious about policy and with an instinct for service. We could use more people like that in both parties. In fact, I’d vote him “Republican Most Likely to Succeed,” if by “succeed” we mean serve competently in the White House should he be elected.
The decision certainly changes the dynamic for a lot of other potential candidates. It means that Mitt Romney is less likely to enter the race, since he and Bush would appeal to the same segment of the Republican electorate and the same funding sources as well. Bush’s fellow Floridian, Marco Rubio, also may be forced to delay his inevitable bid for the brass ring for at least another four years. It affects Chris Christie as well, although my bet is that Christie runs anyway and announces soon.
Despite his pedigree — and to a large degree because of it — Bush faces a difficult primary. After being forced to settle for John McCain and Romney in the last two election cycles, conservative Republicans won’t be happy if forced to accept yet another so-called “moderate” as their party’s standard bearer. And he can protest all he want, but that’s now Bush’s niche. He claims to be conservative and may have been conservative back in 2002, when he ran his most recent race, but in the dozen years since then his party has changed a lot.
On immigration, Jeb has been a vocal advocate of what most Republicans deride as amnesty, although he has also tried to finesse the issue, claiming at various times that he supports and then opposes a path to citizenship. He has also championed the Common Core curriculum that much of the GOP base perceives as a socialist plot to undermine not just education but basic American values. He is the definitive establishment candidate in a party that seems sick and tired even of its own establishment.
If a politician with all that baggage can survive the GOP primaries, it would potentially change the party. I’m just dubious that can happen. Ever since the ’80s, the Republican Party has been pining for its next Ronald Reagan. George Sr. didn’t fit the bill, and neither did his eldest son. Jeb, the second son, doesn’t either. Instead he’s the next Bush, the third Bush, and frankly, it’s a brand with a lot of hard miles on it.