Why Jeb Bush is the single biggest question mark in the 2016 sweepstakes

There are a great many unanswered questions about the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. But at this point, none are as big as this one: Will Jeb Bush run?

There are two simple reasons why. 1) No other top tier Republican has the potential to alter the landscape of the primary as broadly as the former Florida governor. 2) No other top tier Republican has broadcast as much genuine uncertainty about his plans.

Let's talk about the first reason first. No matter what he decides, Bush's decision will hold significant implications for the dynamic of the Republican race.

To begin with, Bush's prospects of winning the Republican nomination look better than most. So if he doesn't run, he'll leave a large pool of likely voters up for grabs. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Thursday shows Bush near the top of a wide open field. He has the support of 18 percent of Republicans, second only to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a well-known figure who has run for vice president and has been in the news a lot lately. Ryan clocks in at 20 percent.

Bush occupies a unique spot in the 2016 sweepstakes because of his appeal to both the GOP establishment (we're talking donors and other traditional power-brokers) and the conservative grassroots. One of Bush's signature issues is education, a hot topic among movement conservatives.

On the establishment side, Bush would compete for many of the same donors that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) would go after. If Bush doesn't run, Christie, should he run, will have an easier time rounding up their support. If Bush does run, then, well, things could get awfully interesting in the money chase.

Then there's Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Bush mentored Rubio as he rose through the ranks and it's an open question whether Rubio would run if Bush does. If Bush doesn't run, it becomes much easier to see Rubio entering the mix.

Now to the second point. Compared to Christie, Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Gov. Scott Walker (R), who have each taken steps to raise their profiles and have done little to tamp down speculation they will run, Bush really seems like he is in the midst of a tough decision-making process.

"I'm deferring the decision to the right time which is later this year," Bush said Wednesday during a school tour.

The fact that the will-he-or-won't-he questions continue to surround Bush in a way they don't surround other potential candidates has solidified his position Variable No. 1 in the potential campaign.

Also worth bearing in mind: Bush's mother Barbara Bush has made no secret of the fact that she doesn't want her son to run. "He's by far the best qualified man, but no, I really don't," the former first lady said last year.

That's only one of many reasons that may push Bush away from the idea of a run. Others include whether he wants to deal with the fresh spotlight on the lingering negativity from George W. Bush's White House tenure and whether running for president is what he wants to do day in and day out for two years.

"The decision will be based on, can I do it joyfully, because I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits," he added on Wednesday.

For all these reasons, it's safe to say there will be HUGE interest from all corners of the GOP in Bush's decision, whenever he announces it.

Fixbits: 

House GOP leaders embraced a path to legal status for most undocumented immigrants, but not a "special path" to citizenship.

Sandra Fluke is thinking about running for Congress.

The RGA outraised the DGA last year.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she is running for reelection.

Charlie Crist (D) leads Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) by eight points in a new poll.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin apologized to Republican National Committee Chairman Priebus.

Former state senator Randy Brogdon (R) is considering switching from the Oklahoma governor's race to the Senate special election.

Must-reads: 

"Obama seeks help outside Washington to enact key agenda items" -- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

"Mayor Unapologetic in Eye of Storm That Brought Atlanta to a Halt" -- Kim Severson, New York Times

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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