March 21, 2014


2016 Republican Presidential Update: A New, Familiar Name at the Top (Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik, U.Va. Center for Politics March 20th, 2014)

Christie's problems have only elevated Bush by comparison, and the two men would occupy similar space in a hypothetical primary contest: The same voters and states that backed the successful nominations of John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 -- i.e. the ones with smaller concentrations of "very conservative" and white evangelical voters like New Hampshire, Florida and many Midwestern states -- would probably be inclined to back one of these two or someone like them.

For all the sturm und drang regarding the Tea Party in the Republican nominating process, it's going to be hard for someone who lacks widespread establishment support -- like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) or Ted Cruz (R-TX) -- to win the nomination. Political science research indicates that endorsements from sitting officeholders and party leaders can be quite predictive of presidential nominees.

And that leads us to another reason to take a potential Bush candidacy seriously: The establishment loves him.

In recent months, we've noticed an unmistakable and widespread desire among some of the Republicans we talk to, particularly ones who would be classified as members of the establishment on and off Capitol Hill, for a third Bush nominee in less than three decades. In one conversation, we mentioned several other potential candidates on our list, but the chatter kept coming back to Jeb. He was the only candidate with whom these party leaders appeared to be comfortable.

A preference for a Bush candidacy is inspired, we think, by a natural conservatism among political party leaders in searching for presidential candidates. The parties want someone who is a proven commodity capable of running a strong campaign and raising a Fort Knox of gold without much hand-holding. It's a preference for the safest choice, and it's got nothing to do with a political belief system. The desire amongst the vast majority of Democratic leaders for Hillary Clinton to run in 2016 stems from the same kind of "conservative" impulse. Compared to riskier nominees, Clinton, like Bush, would be an anodyne choice. This is the kind of establishment impulse that drives activists, particularly conservative ones, batty. But it's also a decent strategy for actually winning elections -- the "no surprises" approach.

The implications of a Bush candidacy would be wide-reaching, and -- to be clear -- we don't know if he's running. He probably doesn't know himself. The reason we're putting him first now is that if he were to run, we'd see him as a modest favorite over the other potential candidates in the field, and he might be the one Republican whose entry could keep other candidates out.

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Posted by at March 21, 2014 2:48 AM

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