A few weeks ago, I argued that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was not well placed to win the Republican nomination (and especially the general election) in 2016. In the months (and years) to come, I plan to review the prospects for other potential candidates to win their party’s nomination and ultimately the White House.
This piece focuses on Jeb Bush’s chances of winning in 2016, following his recent announcement that he now opposes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. I take this reversal of positions for Mr. Bush to be an indication that he is seriously considering a run for the White House in 2016.
I come to this conclusion based on the following logic: If Mr. Bush is NOT considering running, what incentive is there to come out against a legal path to citizenship at this point in time, when such an announcement could negatively affect the current effort at achieving any reform? (Remember, Mr. Bush did not come out against all immigration reform, just reform that includes a path to citizenship.) Mr. Bush’s announcement could have the effect of impeding any bill from passing. Therefore, Mr. Bush must assume that their is something to be achieved by switching positions (i.e. being better positioned to run for president in 2016.) In other words, it simply does not make sense for Mr. Bush to make such an announcement unless he is considering running for president in 2016.
In this post, I compare Mr. Bush to Mr. Rubio on each of the points I emphasized in the last article, arguing that Mr. Bush is better placed to win the nomination (and the general) in 2016 than Mr. Rubio. Then, I will discuss a final caveat that relates to Mr. Bush’s prospects in 2016.
1. Too liberal (on immigration)?: With his recent announcement that he opposes citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Mr. Bush has placed himself to the right of Mr. Rubio (as well as Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan) on this issue which is of great importance in the Iowa caucuses. Yet Mr. Bush did not rule out other legal statuses for undocumented immigrants, allowing him to pivot back to the center should he win the GOP nomination. (Whether a stance that falls short of citizenship is centrist enough for a general election is debatable.) As I discuss in a later section, Mr. Bush’s ideology is one of a mainstream conservative. With this announcement on immigration, he has moved away from the one stance he held that was a deal-breaker for many conservative caucusgoers in the Hawkeye State. Indeed, making this announcement three years before the caucuses looks more like principle than opportunism than if Bush made the announcement after a (possible) failure of the current reform effort.
2. Primary schedule: While members of the Bush family have struggled in the New Hampshire primary in the past, the South Carolina primary gave George W. Bush a needed victory over Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2000. The primary schedule is most favorable to Mr. Bush not due to the placement of specific contests, but rather due to the fact that he would have access to the funds needed to wage a long, drawn-out primary campaign. As the son and brother of former presidents, Mr. Bush could build a campaign apparatus that could compete in every state. In the last primary campaign, one of the “non-Romney” candidates’ biggest problems was raising enough money to compete in a several month long campaign.
3. Scandal/Corruption: This category is most important to Mr. Bush in that his access to financial resources would allow him to exploit the weaknesses of his opponents, including Mr. Rubio. It was the famed Republican operative Lee Atwater who ran Mr. Bush’s father’s campaign and it is hard to forget the negative messaging that John McCain faced in the 2000 South Carolina primary. In other words, the Bushes (and their supporters) know that politics ain’t beanbag.
4. It is his (Bush’s) turn: Either a Bush or a Dole was on the ballot for the Republican Party for the president or vice president in every election from 1976 to 2004. It’s Jeb’s turn because it is (almost) always a Bush’s turn. Furthermore, in every presidential election since 1964 the Republicans have nominated someone who has run for president before, with the lone exception of 2000 when the GOP nominated George W. Bush. (Indeed, there was no viable GOP candidate in 2000 that had run for president before.)
The Republican Party is like that person who always orders the same thing every time they go to a restaurant. Republicans (particularly party elders) like orderly politics because it is, well, conservative. While George W. Bush had a less-than-ideal last few years in office, the Bush name still goes a long way with GOP primary regulars.
5. Too conservative for the general?: Unfortunately, DW-Nominate scores do not exist for governors, so we cannot make a direct ideological comparison to Mr. Rubio, Mr. Ryan, or Mr. Paul. However, Nate Silver of the New York Times has suggested a way to calculate the ideology of governors based on issue positions listed on the website www.ontheissues.com. While admittedly a crude metric, one can use scores on individual issues on this website to calculate a rough estimate of where each governor stands and how they compare to their fellow governors, which can then be converted to a 100 point scale (where 0 is most liberal and 100 is most conservative).
Using this method, I find that Mr. Bush scores in the mid-80s (out of 100). Compared to other current or recent Republican governors, Mr. Bush is at the middle of the pack. He is certainly not as conservative as someone like Rick Scott (also of Florida) who scores a 91, but is more conservative than (former Governor) Mitch Daniels of Indiana who scores a 74.
In many ways, a good way to think about Mr. Bush ideologically is by using his brother as a proxy. In other words, Mr. Bush is a certainly a conservative, but is not completely outside the mainstream of American politics. While the country has certainly changed since 2000 and 2004, it is likely that Mr. Bush would at least be competitive in a general election. After eight years of a Democratic President, the nation may once again turn to a Bush. At the very least, Bush stands a better chance in a general election than Marco Rubio, who is clearly to the right of even most Republican politicians on most issues (not to mention the broader electorate).
6. Is Bush too stale? If anything holds back Mr. Bush from winning in 2016, it is more likely than not a staleness of the Bush brand and the fact that Mr. Bush has passed his (political) prime. Having left the Florida Governorship in 2007, Mr. Bush would have been out of elective office for almost a decade come 2016. This is certainly a concern and may be the biggest factor preventing a Bush candidacy. Overall, Mr. Bush stands a better chance than Mr. Rubio to win the Republican nomination and also would be in a stronger position to win a general election.
Will America elect a third Bush to the White House? With Mr. Bush’s recent switch on immigration, which indicates he may actually want to run, along with his overall strength as a candidate, such an occurrence is a real possibility.