“No question,” Jeb Jr. said in an interview, “people are getting fired up about it — donors and people who have been around the political process for a while, people he’s known in Tallahassee when he was governor. The family, we’re geared up either way.” Most important, he added, his mother, Columba, the prospective candidate’s politics-averse wife, has given her assent.
And apparently, George W. Bush — you remember him — is pushing Jeb to run, as is father George H.W. Bush (although Barbara is reportedly “unconvinced,” though she was always something of a stick in the mud). Should this candidacy become a reality (and given the possibility of another Bush-Clinton general election), we’re going to see a lot of high-minded commentary about how dynasties are inimical to a democracy like ours. Some in the GOP who oppose Bush will probably offer that as a reason they reject him.
But don’t put too much stock in that. Bush will have plenty of problems in the primary without his name even entering into it.
That isn’t to say he wouldn’t be a formidable candidate. One advantage of his name is that he’ll be able to ramp up a campaign very quickly, mobilizing Bush loyalists to staff up and donate money. And he’ll be treated well by the press. But on some of the issues that are going to define the race, Bush will face a strong headwind, to say the least.
The first is immigration. Some in the GOP may see Bush as someone who can perform that “reaching out to Latinos” we’ve been hearing so much about, not least because his wife was born in Mexico and he speaks Spanish. The problem is that Bush has not only advocated for comprehensive immigration reform — a position that makes base Republicans recoil in horror — even worse, he has spoken sympathetically about undocumented immigrants.
In a speech in April, Bush said, “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.” This is not the kind of thing that primary voters can abide. In 2012, Rick Perry said those who oppose in-state tuition for immigrants brought to this country illegally don’t “have a heart.” That just about ended his primary chances.
But that’s not all. The issue of Common Core education standards could also become a millstone around a Bush candidacy. While most Republicans had probably barely heard of Common Core a year or two ago, it has quickly become a symbolic issue of deep importance, representing government overreach and Obama/Swedish-style social engineering, and possibly a takeover of American sovereignty by the U.N. Opposition to Common Core is becoming part of what it means to be a contemporary Republican with national ambitions.
And Jeb Bush isn’t just an advocate of Common Core, he actually heads up not one but two organizations — the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Conservatives for Higher Standards — devoted to advocating for the standards. This is obviously an issue he cares deeply about, and he could no doubt talk any Republican voter’s ear off about it. But in the end, all they’ll hear is that Bush supports that Obama federal education takeover thing (even though Common Core is not a federal government initiative; its prime mover has been the National Governor’s Association).
The conflict between the GOP establishment and the party’s base will define the shape of the 2016 primaries. The person who wins the nomination is going to be the one who can navigate successfully between those two forces. He’ll have to be conservative enough to convince the base that he’ll be there for them, and steady enough to convince the establishment that he won’t be such a fire-breather that he’ll alienate the general electorate. He doesn’t need to be worshiped by both, but he can’t be hated by either. And once the campaign begins, there’s a strong chance that those base Republicans are going to see in Jeb Bush everything they’re fighting against, no matter what his last name happens to be.