There are a few takeaways from Bush’s remarks and from the media’s coverage of them. First, the idea that expressions of compassion for those who come here illegally will be unique or disqualifying in the GOP primary is, from our vantage point, baseless. If he runs, Bush’s book advocating legalization short of citizenship will likely be in the middle of the range of GOP views. Only the liberal media and right-wing opponents of immigration assume that, if you recognize the humanity of the people you are speaking of, a single policy outcome is required. Second, the reason Bush continues to get so much attention is, I’m beginning to conclude, that there is a serious stature gap on the GOP side right now. It may be a crowded field, but are there contenders of presidential caliber?
We’ve looked before at the potential Senate candidates who suffer from political flightiness and immaturity (Rubio), crackpot views on foreign policy (Rand Paul) and ideological rigidity mixed with a lack of executive experience (Cruz). Among governors, with a question mark hovering over New Jersey’s Chris Christie, there is doubt as to which, if any, of the potential candidates can step up to the plate and project sufficient gravitas in putting together a presidential-level campaign. The Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa report that many of these candidates are trying to get up to speed on policy issues (especially on foreign policy) amid full-time jobs and, in some cases, reelection campaigns to manage. That doesn’t mean one or more of these figures won’t or can’t fill the gap, but there are fewer candidates out there than one might imagine for the grown-up/credible on foreign policy/experienced figure of the sort who usually gets the GOP nomination. (A small handful of Republican governors, including Indiana’s Mike Pence and Ohio’s John Kasich, has foreign policy experience while Perry ran once for president and was in the military.)
The GOP is going through a raft of Senate primaries in which unqualified and flawed challengers on the far right are having a tough go of it. That’s nothing compared to the sort of scrutiny presidential contenders will get. The reason that Jeb Bush is attracting so much attention, then, is that political activists, donors and ultimately primary voters are low on confidence that other contenders can clear that bar. They’re hopeful, but Bush is a known commodity, and that is a prized quality for someone who, in all likelihood, will have to go up against Hillary Clinton.