On Tuesday it was reported that Jeb Bush was forming an exploratory committee in preparation for a Presidential run. Bush announcing this early is not surprising. The oldest Bush has not won an election since 2002. Considering the Presidential election is not until 2016 that would be a gap of 14 years between elections. Smart Politics finds It has been 150+ years since the last time there was a 14-year gap between a presidential candidate’s last electoral victory and a successful White House campaign.
There may be other reasons Bush announced his intentions so early. Rand Paul offered up one on Fox News, ““Maybe he has more ground he needs to gain. He’s been out of this a while so maybe he needs to get back in and practice up a bit.” Other analysis has focused on the idea that Bush needs time to develop a national infrastructure (if not donor base).
But, the biggest calculation has to be that Bush is not well-known by the base. Of those who do know about him the opinion is decidedly mixed. Bush’s team has to know that like Romney they need to get out early and combat the idea he is just another, big government establishment Republican. How they go about this is anybody’s guess.
Bush’s liabilities with the party faithful run deep. He is a huge fan of Common Core and has not really offered up a nuanced position on Immigration Reform. His green record on conservation offers up comparable images to Newt Gingrich sitting next to Nancy Pelosi and chatting up climate change. He has also said that a Republican needs to lose the primary to win the general. Um, okay.
Ted Cruz summed up what he thought of a Bush candidacy, “The GOP will lose with another moderate.” Of course Cruz is likely to run for President so take this with a grain of salt. But, Cruz’s sentiment echoes what many feel about yet another Bush on the ticket. Democrats may feel all warm and cuddly with a Hillary candidacy because they think of the good old days under Bill but for Republicans and Bush the sentiment is far from similar.
Bush does have his strengths. The guy was a strong, pro-growth Governor of Florida. He aggressively cut taxes, $19 billion by his count, implemented a first in the nation school choice and voucher system while creating accountability standards for teachers. He even offers up something for social conservatives when in 2005 and 2006 he became involved in the Terry Schaivo controversy.
Democrats are sure to use his conservative past against him. Teachers unions loathe him as much as they dislike Scott Walker. Abortion activists fear his actions in the Schaivo case reveal he is a more ideological culture warrior than George. Democrats will argue he is another slash and burn Republican because of his stances on government.
Bush’s successes are mired in the murky past. It is his most recent statements and actions that seem to carry more weight. At a Congressional hearing in 2012, Bush responded when asked whether he would take a budget deal that cut spending but raised taxes, “If you could bring to me a majority of people to say that we’re going to have $10 of spending cuts for $1 of revenue enhancement — put me in, Coach.” The panel was not impressed. Neither was Grover Norquist. At the same panel Bush made clear he had not signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge.
Further adding to Bush’s woes is the fact that conservative groups are pointing to a 45% increase in state spending during his tenure. Not exactly a great thing to court conservatives with. Even the fact that hurricanes hammered the state consistently from 04-06 is likely to fall on deaf ears.
Bush is ultimately dragged down more by his name more than anything else. There is no warm feeling from conservatives to the Bush name and the actions the former Florida Governor has taken since he has left office has not helped. If Jeb wants to be President he should really, really realize you do have to win the primary to win the general. To do that Jeb needs to start mending his fences with the base and soon.
Addendum: This is part I of a two-part series on Bush’s Presidential aspirations. The next edition will feature what competition Bush would likely be up against in the primary.