In a report speculating that former Florida governor Jeb Bush may run for president in 2016, the New York Times observes, “When Senator Marco Rubio of Florida held a strategy session here to discuss his own political future last week, the question of Mr. Bush, a mentor, hung over the room; a decision by Mr. Bush, 59, to seek the Republican nomination would almost certainly halt any plans by Mr. Rubio, 41, to do so or abruptly set off a new intraparty feud.”
The reporters don’t identify a source for that proposition, and Republicans should hope that notion doesn’t represent Rubio’s thinking. Why should his candidacy hang on what Jeb Bush wants to do any more than on what a dozen other potential candidates decide? This will not be a race for Florida office but a nationwide contest with donors, supporters and voters cast far and wide.
Moreover, these are two very different candidates with different life experiences. Bush has the experience of a chief executive of his state and an education reformer. Rubio represents a new generation, is developing a depth of knowledge in foreign policy and will, by 2016, have been through multiple battles on the budget, taxes and entitlements. Bush brings a wealth of reassuring competence; Rubio brings eloquence and the immigrant life story. There is plenty of room for them should they both decide to run.
Rather than react to what other candidates are doing or not doing, Rubio and other Republicans contemplating a run should figure out what vision they have for the country or their states and what policies they will they champion, develop and explain. The field will fall into place in due time, but motivated candidates with something to say should be willing to put themselves out there whatever the competition.
In general, the more candidates the better for the Republicans in 2016. At least initially no one knows who will bomb and who will soar. As we saw in 2012 a crowded field doesn’t always mean everyone will stick around after the first few primaries.
It is evident that Rubio, Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would start with ready pools of supporters and donors. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) may be in this batch as well. These high-visibility Republicans have enough name recognition and enthusiastic followers to command attention and potentially win early races (understanding that the lineup of states may change).
To create buzz and lure donors, other contenders with less prominent profiles will have to start early — traveling, campaigning for other candidates and accessing free media. We saw Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) start down this route already. A long list of able GOP governors (e.g., Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez) and Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), among others, may take that avenue. These candidates by sheer persistence will need to break through the crowd and media din to find their own space in the contest.
For the near future, the more the merrier in the field of potential candidates. It is a very long time until the start of yet another primary season. In the meantime, if smart GOP pols are looking to make a mark, expand the appeal of the Republican Party and offer their own creative solutions, the party and the country as a whole will be the better for it.