On Facebook today, Jeb Bush announced that he's "decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States." He wants to run and a lot of big donors and party insiders want him to run. They want to repeat their success in 2014, when, in addition to getting a lot of new Republicans elected, they protected a lot of GOP incumbents who were vulnerable to primary challenges from the extreme right. Jeb has never run for president, but the establishmentarians seem to regard him as similar to one of those non-teabaggy incumbents. They see him as safe and electable.
But here's the thing: some of those establishment incumbents (Thad Cochran in Mississippi, Pat Roberts in Kansas) struggled to survive the primaries. The ones who won fairly easily make a habit of expressing crowd-pleasing hate for Democrats: Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell. The problem for Jeb is that the 'baggers are going to be gunning for him and he clearly doesn't plan to give a lot of red-meat speeches, nor does he plan to tack rightward on litmus-test issues:
This past weekend, Bush gave an extensive interview to a Miami television station....Mitt Romney was able to win the nomination in 2012 because he'd get mean and tear down an opponent when necessary, and also because he knew how to bash President Obama with glee. John McCain had anger going for him, too, and he also was utterly in sync with the base on the #1 litmus-test issue of 2008, support for the Bush administration's wars. On the subject of litmus tests for 2016, Ben Shapiro has tweeted this:
In the interview, he sketched out the philosophical approach he would take in a campaign....
The former governor indicated he would not back away from his support for Common Core education standards or a comprehensive immigration overhaul -- two hot-button issues that have raised the ire of conservative activists.
Bush said that he believes Romney was hurt in the 2012 primaries when he "got sucked into other people's agendas" and moved too far to the right....
The only way to succeed in the end, he added, would be to run a positive campaign and not to run down other Republican candidates.
"You don't do well in bringing people together if you're carpin', criticizing, turning around and saying, well, you're not as good as me," he said. "You have got to stay above the fray and be respectful of good fine, people that will be running, as well."
GOP geniuses. In 2012, top issue was Obamacare, so we ran the Republican who invented it. In 2016, top issue is immigration, so we run Jeb?— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2014
But at least Romney was an unswerving opponent of Obamacare in 2012, however suspect his opposition may have been to the base. On immigration, as Paul Waldman notes,
Bush doesn't just support comprehensive immigration reform, he talks about the subject in a very different way from most other Republicans. In a speech earlier this year, he described undocumented immigrants this way: "Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony. It's an act of love, it's an act of commitment to your family." And there's no question that Bush feels this sincerely. He wrote a book on immigration reform (which his opponents' aides are no doubt scouring for quotes that can be used against him). His wife is an immigrant from Mexico. He speaks Spanish. His kids look Hispanic. He’s not going to suddenly change his position on immigration.Yup -- but Bush will struggle to defend his tolerant statements.
What this means is that by being one of the top-tier candidates in the race, Bush instantly changes the immigration debate in the primaries. It isn't that any of the other candidates are going to move to the left, but the discussion will not just be about who wants to build the highest border fence. There will be at least one person talking about immigrants in human terms.
So he's going to run with a Mitt Romney level of financing but a Jon Huntsman approach to the issues -- a belief that if he defies litmus tests, he'll be respected for that. (Ask Huntsman how well the latter worked out for him.) But meanwhile, he's likely to clear the field quite a bit -- if he's in, Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney are almost certainly out, Chris Christie will struggle to get funded, and Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Pence, Rick Snyder, and other potential fresh faces will probably have second thoughts about running. Paul Ryan will probably decide he'd rather pursue power in the House. We really might be down to a top tier consisting of just Jeb, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz, with Ben Carson punching above his weight until the big-money primaries start, in the Huckabee/Santorum role.
If the race comes down to Jeb and Rand, you're going to have one group of Republicans disgusted with Jeb on immigration and Common Core and another group disgusted with Rand on foreign policy -- nobody's going to be happy. And then the GOP has to take on Hillary -- yes, I still think she'll breeze to the nomination -- who still beats all challengers in nearly every poll. Clearing the field for an establishmentarian ultimately worked for the GOP in 2014 in Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Kentucky because those are deeply red states -- once you got to the general election, the Republican candidate was pretty much a shoo-in. But this isn't a deeply red country. I'm not sure the GOP can win the presidency with a candidate a lot of the base loathes.