With his December 16, Facebook announcement that he will "actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States" and establish a Leadership PAC to allow supporters to make financial contributions, Jeb Bush has brought a high degree of urgency to contenders for the Establishment Wing of the Republican Party. The conservatives and populists will have time to sort their candidates, but the race for donors and campaign talent among Bush, Christie, Rubio, and Romney supporters will have a short fuse.
- After retiring as a two-term Florida governor in 2007, Jeb backed away from politics, taking board positions with a number of prominent companies and rejecting suggestions that he run for the Senate in 2010 or president in 2012. Perhaps as part of a larger strategy, his ex-president brother also let the Bush brand lie fallow for the Obama years, remaining largely out of the limelight.
- Jeb returned in the 2014 cycle, making two dozen appearances in support of Republican candidates and demonstrating his fundraising capacity. A December 1, Wall Street Journal interview laid out his vision for a Republican candidate, emphasizing a need to be upbeat and positive.
- In deference to the dynasty, he waited until after his son George P was elected Texas Land Commissioner in November before making it (almost) official.
- In 2008 and 2012 Barack Obama and David Axelrod demonstrated the power of a social media network with local activists. While the Republican National Committee can provide some of the infrastructure once the candidate is nominated, Bush undoubtedly wants time to establish his own.
- In the abstract, the country is ready for a change of direction. Beyond the resounding message of the November elections in which Republicans won 69 of 99 state legislative bodies, mid-December polling shows 40% of voters preferring a Republican president and 38% a Democrat, with 71% wanting a "different approach" than Barack Obama's.
- Overall polling numbers comparing Hillary to any Republican are meaningless at this point, in part because virtually all engaged Democrats say that they could support Hillary while a significant number of Republicans oppose anybody but their preferrred candidate.
- Prior to Bush's announcement, he enjoyed a largely meaningless small polling lead with 15% over a fragmented Republican field.
- By any measure Bush's tenure as governor of Florida was a conservative success. He cut taxes by $19 billion; he reduced the size of state government by 6.6 %; his was the first state to introduce school vouchers; he promoted testing and school acountability; he was actively "pro life"; he killed the Florida High Speed Rail project; he appointed a more conservative judiciary; he opposed affirmative action in state university admissions. He was reelected after stressing that he favored equality of opportunity, not equality of results.
- His first policy offense on the national stage, support of Common Core, mirrors his brother's support of No Child Left Behind. Both favor transfer of authority for k-12 education from local authorities to the federal government, an Class I Felony for conservatives. To a broader audience, there is appeal in his leading from conviction that America's public education system performance is intolerable and that he will take steps to fix it, beyond just giving it more money.
- His second policy offense, advocacy for broad immigration reform reflects both Florida's large Cuban and Puerto Rican populations and his marriage to a Mexican-American wife. He favors Congressional engagement with a series of immigration measures and gives conflicting messages about eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants, saying that it may be "necessary for a Republican to lose the primary in order to win the election." His 2013 book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, gives him little room to wiggle, except perhaps on how difficult access to citizenship might be.
- On other policy issues, Jeb would be a pragmatic conservative - modifications to Obamacare; reform of the tax code; active American leadership in foreign policy; an "all in" energy policy; serious entitlement reform.
Most of the "dynasty" discussion focuses on the Clintons and the Bushes; a better comparison to uderstand the strength of the Bush family would be the Kennedy machine - donors; campaign managers and troops; intellectuals; and media advocates - which has been able to keep itself together in New England to elect brother Teddy and a host of lesser heirs despite Chappaquiddick and a string of drug and alcohol offenses. One should never underestimate the power of the Bush network.
By going first, Jeb Bush has shown what a major league team looks like - whether one likes the Bush brand or not. If nothing else, that should help push some of the unrealistic wannabe's off of the stage. And it is nice to have at least one Republican candidate who has the financial support, political network, policy positions, and demonstrated success as a major state governor to win - even if name recognition is a negative and some policy positions reflect deeply held beliefs rather than the prevailing GOP view.
This week's video is a Flashmob carolling session by the Air Force Band at the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum. It is unclear what happened to sequestration and the searation of church and state, but the music is quite nice.
bill bowen - 12/26/14