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Why Jeb Bush Is a Serious Candidate

With 2014 drawing to a close, speculation will soon turn to the 2016 Presidential race in the United States.  The Republicans will hold control over both houses of Congress come January, and will offer a wide array of potential candidates lining up for a White House run.  With President Barack Obama leaving the White House, Republicans see the strong possibility of winning the presidency in 2016.

Attention has suddenly peaked towards the GOP race now that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has announced his intention to explore a White House bid—raising the prospect of another member of the Bush family facing expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.  The former two-term governor has been coy about his intentions for the past year, occasionally criticizing his party as being less hospitable to candidates like his father, former Republican President George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.

How serious is a potential Jeb Bush candidacy?  In one word: serious.  The current prospective field includes: Florida Senator Mark Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Kentucky Senator and libertarian Rand Paul, Tea Party favorite Texas Senator Ted Cruz, 2012 vice-presidential contender Paul Ryan, and, possibly, a third run by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney.  None of the above candidates are without liabilities, and no one is dominant.  Bush’s announcement, therefore, shakes up the current field for both Republican primary voters and potential donors—he has immediate name recognition and has a reputation as a successful governor from a swing state.

The primary season is 13 months away and there will be a variety of forces at play in the Republican primaries. Social conservatives and Tea Party activists will not remain silent, and will play an active role on matters of policy and values.  This could radicalize some of the early primary battles, leading more polarizing figures, such as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, to be eliminated early.  The more moderate Republicans, hungry for a White House victory after an eight-year drought, may choose a more classic conservative—Bush could emerge as the obvious choice.  And history may be on his side.

Past Republican nominees in the post-WWII era who strongly adhered to conservative principles—but with moderate rhetoric and positions—have been most successful.  Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush presented images of the classic conservative, and their appeal reached beyond the Republican base.  They all won two terms.  With the exception of the 1964 archconservative nominee, Barry Goldwater, Republicans even chose nominees with broader appeal in years when they suffered defeat—Gerald Ford, John McCain and Mitt Romney.  In those contests, the Republican nominees had respectable showings.

The key deciding factor will be winnability.  Who can win in 2016?  Here, Bush has some clear advantages.  Beyond his solid reputation as governor of a swing state, his conservative credentials are rarely questioned.  While he has recently criticized the strident and extreme voices emanating from some right-wing circles, he has done it in a non-polarizing manner.

In addition, Bush has staked more moderate stands on immigration reform, health reform and the environment without triggering outright condemnation from the GOP base.  This may give him leverage with independent voters and Latinos; his skills in Spanish will not hurt, either.

Should Bush decide to run—and succeed in winning the nomination—he could build a 2016 ticket with another swing state representative as his running mate:  Ohio Governor John Kasich or Senator Rob Portman.  Both are popular and have shown an ability to attract voters beyond the Republican base in their recent electoral contests.

Bush’s candidacy would match Hillary Clinton in name recognition, and he could be the best bet for taking the White House in 2016.  It may be still too early, but Bush’s “near-candidacy” could be official and serious by this time next year.  Happy holidays to all.

*John Parisella is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. He is also a Member of the Board of Directors of The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Jeb Bush, Republican party, U.S. presidential elections

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