It is a measure of how influential his decision on whether to run for president will be that Jeb Bush is generating such vigorous discussion on the right. Depending on whom you talk to: He is either disqualified because he hasn’t been in office for a long time or he’s a breath of fresh air apart from Beltway hand-to-hand combat. He’s either a seasoned professional or he’s purportedly squeamish (did he ever say he was?) about taking incoming fire. He’ll either never get elected because he would be the third Bush or he will find that this is the perfect time to run since otherwise Hillary Clinton would be the second Clinton. He may be a powerhouse with evangelicals or he’s an establishment wimp with no grass-roots following.
Certainly no one feels as strongly about whether Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) get in the race; they either will or won’t, and if not, there will be other candidates to choose from. Bush, it is safe to say, generates a lot of heat both because he would draw (as he already is doing) a lot of attention and donors from other candidates (hence, their fans in the media feel compelled to shoot down his candidacy) and because he’s not beholden to anyone in the party and not in need of their stamp of approval to mount a campaign. He doesn’t need to stoke the anger in the base and compete for ideological purity; he’s his own guy with his own eclectic views. He is perhaps the greatest threat to grass-roots libertarians of any potential candidate (other than grass-roots libertarians themselves, who are proving to be every bit as erratic as their critics claim). As one Republican observer put it, Bush is bound to make “a spirited defense of mutual obligation and civic responsibility.”
There are plenty of other candidates (Rep. Paul Ryan, Rubio, GOP governors) who can do this as well, but it’s not clear if they will run. (If Jeb Bush runs, Rubio may well not; if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker runs, Ryan may sit it out.) It’s even more uncertain how effective they can be in, frankly, embracing the “compassionate” side of conservatives that hard-right conservatives despise.
Candidly, it would be great if all these guys ran — Bush, Rubio, Ryan, Kasich, Walker, etc. A campaign is supposed to be a vigorous exchange of ideas and a test of character and skill. It seems silly to write off anyone. Indeed, the best thing can be to see your ideological adversaries run — and then crash and burn. The voters, not TV or online pundits, will eventually sort it out. And the more the right-leaning chorus wants to keep Bush out, the more you wonder what he’d say if he got in.