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Jeb Bush 2016 announcement: What's it mean for GOP rivals? (+video)

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Susan Walsh/AP/File

(Read caption) Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, shown in November in Washington, took his most definitive step yet toward running for president, announcing plans to “actively explore” a campaign.

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Jeb Bush is almost certainly running for the White House. That’s the import of his post on Facebook today that he’s “decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.”

He’s all but declared his candidacy, though the former Florida governor has left himself just enough room to say his exploration went badly if he changes his mind and decides to stop.

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Why now? He previously said he’d make up his mind at the end of the year, or early in 2015, so this meets his schedule. It’s also time for him to send sotto voce messages to some potential rivals. That’s because Mr. Bush’s decisions have major implications for others in the 2016 GOP field.

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For Mitt Romney, the message might be “back off.” Yes, Mr. Romney has said he’s not running. But the chatter from his camp is getting louder by the week. It’s reached the point where major fundraisers and establishment Republican figures might reasonably think they need to wait to see if Romney might jump in. By announcing his intentions early, Bush is making a play to solidify his standing in this faction of the party. He wants Romney’s old campaign donation bundlers on his side.

“Needless to say, this makes a Romney run unlikely . . .  since job one for the establishment is uniting around a single champion early, it means Romney will likely only challenge Jeb if Bush falters early,” writes Allahpundit at right-leaning Hot Air.

For Marco Rubio, Bush’s message might be “sorry Bud, but it’s not your time.” Allahpundit adds that the Bush move makes a Rubio run “really unlikely.” Florida Senator Rubio has been widely seen as a possible 2016 contender, but he’s something of a Bush protégé and would draw on many of the same people for fundraising and campaign infrastructure. This group will now gravitate to the man whose surname has already graced the Oval Office, twice.

Then there’s Chris Christie. For the pugnacious New Jersey governor, Bush’s message might be, “get ready to rumble.” It shows that Governor Christie will face another heavyweight candidate for the “electable establishmentarian” position in the 2016 field. It also might show that many in the party have doubts about whether Christie can perform on the big primary stage.

Bush is also putting Christie on notice that he won’t have unfettered access to the GOP moneymen of the Northeast. As with Romney, it’s partly about the Benjamins.

“Bush is now the Establishment fave who has taken the most overt steps towards running for president, which puts some extra pressure on Chris Christie since Bush’s PAC will at a minimum put the arm on many potential campaign donors in a way that will tend to commit them,” writes left-leaning Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly.

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Bush’s move might have less effect on the rest of the nascent GOP field. For some it will be a positive. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas might use Bush as a means to define himself, for instance. He could say he’s the anti-Bush, not the establishment choice, a man of the people from the plains of the Southwest. Or something like that, but you get the point – he’ll try and fill the populist, tea party slot in the campaign. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum might try the same thing.

Is the nation is ready for a Bush family presidential triple play? That’s a whole other can of questions. It is true, though, that the Bush brand is doing better than a few years ago, as this interesting piece at The Fix blog at The Washington Post points out.

Being an ex-president has done wonders for George W. Bush’s favorable ratings. They’ve gained 14 points since 2009, and he’s now above water, with a 49 to 46 favorable/unfavorable split, according to Gallup.

“Part of that trend is because Americans tend to have a fondness for ex-presidents, even the one-termers and the people, like W., who left office deeply unpopular,” writes the Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson.