This post assumes that both Bush and Hillary make it out of their respective primaries. The odds are good that if both decided to run Hillary would have the easier route to her party’s nomination. Just look at the polls. Democrats seem to want Hillary in the absence of better options while the GOP faithful are far from convinced a third Bush should run let alone be the party’s nominee.
However, if Bush did become the party’s nominee he could pose a serious threat to an “inevitable” Hillary White House. The reasons are varied and not all have to do with Bush himself. Some of the reasons are more demographic and ideological than anything else. Others do relate to Bush. Let’s start with the demographic and ideological reasons.
Nobody will argue the Democratic and Republican parties have moved further apart ideologically since Bill ran for the White House. Voters have demographically self-sorted into red/blue states and racial polarization has significantly increased. The Clinton Coalition of the 90’s was surprisingly bipartisan and biracial. In both his runs in 92 and 96 Clinton did not win whites outright but he garnered the largest share a Democrat had achieved since Carter in 76. Not even Obama’s 2008 coalition could wrest this accolade away from Clinton.
Many of the state’s Clinton won in the South in 92 and 96 are off-limits to his wife. Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Tennessee, all states Clinton took are goners for Hillary and would be shoe-ins for Bush. Clinton managed to win Georgia in 92 and while demographics say Democrats can compete there in two years the state’s racially polarized voting patterns argue differently. These states now compose the new base of the GOP’s electoral strength. Even North Carolina, a state Clinton lost twice is arguably a 2020 state for Democrats to be able to win in again.These’s states voting patterns have shifted as the Democratic Party has moved left and white voters have left the party.
Bush would be the beneficiary but he would have to translate GOP wins among whites into winning traditionally blue leaning states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. Unlike former GOP candidates Bush has little connection to New Hampshire and he would need a break or two to win Iowa. Heck, his brother did not win both Iowa (2004) and New Hampshire (2000) in either of his election attempts.
Clinton enters the election benefitting from the demographic changes roiling the country. Specifically, states such as Virginia, Nevada, Colorado have gone from red to blue in the electoral college in the Obama era because Obama’s campaign has finally mobilized such the powerful minority voting bloc. Consider in 2012 Romney won 54% of whites in CO, 61% in VA and 56% of in NV and yet he lost all three states. In fact, demographic changes have also started to make Arizona competitive in Presidential elections and New Mexico a safe blue state since 2004. Combined with the increasing proclivity of affluent, suburban whites to vote Democrat it has made these states purple.
Clinton’s strength in demographics leads into Bush’s strengths as a candidate. The former Governor has the ability to appeal to minorities and Hispanics in a way only his brother could. GW won 44% of the Hispanic vote and he did so by hailing from a Hispanic state like TX. He discussed the issues the community cared about. Jeb also hails from a strongly Hispanic state and has familial connections to the community (at least the Cuban-American community) with a Hispanic wife and Hispanic son just elected to Land Commissioner in Texas. Both of Bush’s elections in Florida can be touted for winning a majority of the Hispanic vote in each (even if his last race was a decade and a half ago).
If Clinton is a fundraising monster than Bush can be considered the GOP’s counterpart. His connections to the GOP donor base run deep, cultivated during his time as Governor and through his family. Unlike his primary competition, Bush would not need to get his name and credentials out into the donor world to see cash flow his way. Much as Clinton can do Bush only need flick his fingers and the cash will start pouring in.
Yet, weaknesses remain for Bush, as well as for Clinton. Since 1984 the country has had 7 Presidential elections (8 with 2016). If Bush were to be the GOP nominee his family would be at the top of the ticket 5 out of 8 times. A Clinton run would mean a Clinton would be on the ballot in some form for 4 out of 8 of those elections. So much for dynastic politics.
Due to 2010 and 2014 the Democratic Party has few up and coming faces ready to handle the national spotlight. The party’s best future hopes are heads of Cabinets and mayors of major cities but they have not won statewide office. On the other hand many probable 2016 hopefuls for the GOP have fueled by 2010 and 2014 waves. Cruz, Paul, and Rubio have done it once. Christie, Pence, Walker and Kasich have done it twice and not in easy political environments. Clinton offers her party the best option out of none. Bush offers the party a policy wonkishness bordering on ingenious but the same last name as the party’s most cherish and tarnished political dynasty.
Bush will walk into a general election with many strengths. But he will also have weaknesses he cannot change. By far his greatest weakness will be his last name. Unless he can find a way to appeal to Republican voters that McCain and Romney struggled with he may be done in by the fact the base stays home. Bush would eat into the Democrats advantage among minorities but it would be all for naught if he cannot find a way to appeal to the party faithful. McCain barely tried and lost. Romney did his best and still lost. Bush needs to find a way to thread the needle. If he does another Bush could move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.