Jeb Bush looks a lot like winning nominees of years past and not just because of his last name. He could unite all parts of the GOP
A few weeks ago, I asked if Republicans could find their next George W Bush. That is, someone who could unite the Republican party and present a 2016 ticket that could appeal to the general electorate. I don’t know who that candidate is, but I have a good idea who Republicans think it might be: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Bush, in my opinion, matches the criteria that I look to in predicting which nominees are chosen.
1. He is next in line
When you look back at who Republicans choose, a pattern quickly emerges. Every candidate in the modern nominating era has some very strong relationship to the presidency. They had either run for it before, been the president or vice-president, or been a familial relation to a president. They were the obvious next choice.
Republicans seem to like to pick candidates who are familiar to them. People’s who name can be trusted. Jeb Bush’s name is obviously familiar to many Republicans. Besides being the son of one president and the brother of another, Bush has been on the national stage for 20 years. As I said back before, this isn’t an iron clad rule, but it seems to hold.
2.He is well liked by the establishment
I can’t stress this one enough. Anytime there’s a clear establishment favorite, he wins.
Endorsements help because they send a signal to voters who might be confused in a field of candidates who often sound a lot alike. Another way of saying this is that endorsements lend credibility to a candidacy. At the same time, party insiders can help deflate the hopes of insurgents. Remember how many people came out against Newt Gingrich when he was rising in the polls in 2012?
Jeb Bush would likely win the most endorsements because he is the embodiment of the party establishment. Back in 2012, Jeb Bush held out on endorsing any Republican until he broke his silence in late March. He endorsed Romney and told Republicans “now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney”.
Bush’s endorsement started an endorsement wave of sorts for Romney including popular senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Paul Ryan, the libertarian from Kentucky. Romney won three of the next four primaries, including in the key midwestern states of Illinois and Wisconsin. Conservative rival Rick Santorum’s money dried up, and he quit his campaign by early April.
3. He is a proven winner in a swing state
I can’t think of anything scarier to a voter than putting up a candidate who they’re not sure what they’re going to say next. That’s why former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich couldn’t last in 2012. It’s why Anthony Weiner’s campaign is falling apart in 2013. Voters like to know what’s coming.
This is especially the case after Romney decided to open his mouth when he thought the general wasn’t listening and uttered his infamous 47% line. Romney had only had won a statewide office once and left the state with approvals that only a masochist could enjoy.
Bush was governor of a large state for eight years and won easily both times. You can argue that he’s flip-flopped between a pathway to citizenship or legal residency for undocumented immigrants, but he has no real skeletons of which I’m aware. Besides, his immigration flip is far smaller than being pro-choice and pro-life like Romney.
You can see how well Bush did in Florida by looking at the numbers. He has an impressive +21 net favorable rating among all voters in Florida, which is higher than any elected official in the state. That’s unchanged from his net approval rating during his final year in office. His net favorable among Republican is +81, higher than the very high Marco Rubio.
4. He is trusted by conservatives
I often talk about ideology in terms of scores and statistics, but there’s another way to look at it. Ideology is often how voters feel about you. Mitt Romney wasn’t able to get Republican primary voters to trust him easily. Because of Romneycare, abortion flip-flops, and confusing stances on gay rights, Romney had to sell his conservatism hard. That likely hurt him in the general election.
Bush doesn’t have that problem. Because of point 3, Bush is trusted by conservatives. He doesn’t need to say certain things to make the base go gaga. They know what they’re getting. You can get a good idea of this by looking at the favorable ratings in the latest Public Policy Polling survey (pdf) of Republican primary voters.
Assigning undecideds based upon those already decided, Bush scores a 77% overall with a 73% rating among Republican moderates, 82% among somewhat conservative voters, and 80% among very conservative voters. Most of the other possible candidates have flaws among one sector of the Republican primary electorate. No other candidate has the type of long record that Bush has to make me believe the numbers will hold.
5. His true ideology looks like what one would expect for a winner for the nomination and general
After losing two presidential races in a row, parties tend to nominate candidates who are more moderate than prior nominees. Jimmy Carter was more moderate than McGovern, Clinton was more moderate than Dukakis, and Bush was more moderate than Dole.
Jeb Bush is actually to the left of every possible nominee per ideological scoring except for New Jersey Chris Christie and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. Noticeably, Bush isn’t too far to the left. The distance between Bush and Romney is about half the gap between Christie and Romney. He’s not too far of a jump to Republicans, yet can give Republicans reassurances that he gives them a better shot in the general election.
Speaking of the general election, his stances on immigration and issues overall likely will help him somewhat. Ideology is vastly overrated in terms of winning election. Still, it can make a one or two point difference, which is all you need in a very close election.
Conclusion: I don’t know if Jeb Bush will run. I’d probably bet against. But if he does run, he’d be uniquely positioned to win the nomination. He’s liked by all parts of his party and has the ideological makeup to suggest that he could do well in a general election as well.