The former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, will be speaking and getting an award in New York City this spring at the Manhattan Institute’s annual Alexander Hamilton dinner.
The save-the-date notice that went out last week about the dinner, which is to take place in May, will only add to speculation about whether Mr. Bush intends to run for president in 2016. If he does, accepting the Manhattan Institute invitation is a smart move — it will provide Bush some valuable exposure before a large audience of right-of-center donors and intellectuals.
A Bush candidacy, at least on paper, has a certain amount of political and policy logic.
Start with his home state, Florida, where Bush won statewide elections in 1998 and in 2002. The presidential candidate who won Florida has won the general election in 12 of the last 13 presidential elections (the sole exception to this rule over the 48 years from 1964 to 2012 was 1992, when Bill Clinton lost the state but won the presidency).
Then consider the demographic appeal. Polls indicated that Bush won majorities of Florida’s Hispanic vote in both of his gubernatorial elections. He’s Catholic, and his wife was born in Mexico.
If he picks a Hispanic running mate such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada, or Susana Martinez of New Mexico, he has a shot at significantly narrowing the Democratic advantage among Latinos, who are 10 percent of the electorate nationwide. That could help put not only Florida but also Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico in the Republican column in 2016.
Bush did a solid job as governor of Florida, cutting the state’s already-relatively-low taxes, restraining spending, and reforming public education with a voucher program. And if the Republican Party’s establishment wing, to the extent that there is such a thing, is looking for a known quantity to fend off firebrand newcomers with their own presidential ambitions such as Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky or Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Bush probably fits the bill as well as anyone.
What are the negatives?
The last name, perhaps. Jeb Bush’s own mother, Barbara Bush, articulated this thought last month when she said she hoped he did not run. “If we can’t find more than two or three families to run for higher office, that’s silly,” she said.
On the other hand, any backlash against the threat of family dynasties is likely to be blunted if the Democratic candidate is Hillary Clinton; Clinton fatigue would neutralize Bush fatigue. And the Adams, Roosevelt, and Kennedy families provide ample precedent in American history for families to have multiple members engaged in public service.
Bush’s endeavors since leaving the governorship will certainly attract some scrutiny. He went to work for Lehman Brothers in 2007, which was poor timing.
For conservatives, there are some questions about Bush’s ideological bona fides. As governor, he opposed most oil drilling off the coast of Florida, though after leaving office he said that if he had known gas prices were heading so high, he would have supported drilling. That misses the point. Of course the governor can’t predict gas prices, which is why the forecasting of future gas prices is best left to people considering investing in offshore drilling rigs and leases.
Bush also said in 2012 that he would support federal tax increases to reduce the deficit, a comment that earned Bush a deserved rebuke from Republican tax activist Grover Norquist. Jeb Bush has praised the tax increase of his father, George H. W. Bush, a tax increase that is detested to this day by conservatives who believe, with some reason, that it cost Republicans the presidency in 1992.
And politically, there is the question of whether Bush would be another John McCain or Mitt Romney. That is, someone backed by the GOP donor base and some primary voters with the idea that he was electable and more mainstream than the rival candidates, an idea that proves to be an illusion in a general election campaign in which the left-wing advocacy groups and their allies in the press caricature any Republican nominee as an extremist.
In November of 2016 Bush will be 63 years old, and Mrs. Clinton will be 69. It may seem a long way away, but it will be here before you know it.
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