First, Hillary Clinton doesn’t wear well. From a combined positive rating of 59 percent in February 2009 in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, she now is down to 48 percent. And there hasn’t been a single negative ad directed her way. Moreover, she has been insulated from the media and exempt from answering hard questions about her legacy, her support for Obamacare and other issues that may turn off voters.
Second, the Bush name really isn’t a problem for Jeb. According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Barbara Bush’s suggestion that there should be more than two or three families to run for president applies, according to respondents, just about equally to both Hillary Clinton (7 percent) and Jeb Bush (10 percent). To the extent there is dynasty fatigue it affects both candidates (50 percent). Likewise Americans have a favorable impression of both the Clinton (66 percent) and Bush families (54 percent). Jeb may still not want to run for president, but fear of the impact of the Bush name shouldn’t be a reason not to run.
Third, no candidate has broken out of the GOP pack. You could fly-speck the differences over time and see in these and other polls that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has fallen back (going from 14 percent to 9 percent in The Post/ABC poll since January), as have Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) (who went from 12 percent to 7 percent in the same time frame) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (going from 10 percent to 6 percent), but the candidates remain tightly bunched. Actual candidates have yet to be determined — will Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Mike Huckabee and others run? If not, where do their supporters go? — there is, therefore, an incentive for donors to hold back and for candidates to jump in. That also means that despite the negative reaction of right wingers and especially anti-immigration conservatives, Bush remains one of the top candidates.
Fourth, Christie has neither collapsed nor recovered his previous dominate position in the field. If his fundraising prowess is a plus for him, he certainly will need more to re-energize supporters and reassure donors. A top notch speech on foreign policy, a national reform agenda or a sustained attack on Washington pols (e.g. his Senate competitors) may help, but for now he’s in a holding pattern at a low altitude.
Fifth, and most interesting, of those contenders above 5 percent, only Cruz is doggedly opposed to immigration reform. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seems definitively to be joining the Republicans who want to move beyond deportation, a stance that may concern some of his hard-core supporters. And Paul is the only candidate who embraces a foreign policy that would place him to the left of Clinton.
There seems to be more consensus among top GOP contenders than one would believe from media reports. It is fair to say, with a couple notable exceptions, the top contenders are pro-defense, pro-Obamacare repeal (although again Paul suggested it might be hard to get rid of), and pro-immigration reform. The race may be therefore boil down to the candidates’ records, character, specific policy proposals, organization and campaign performance. These polls say nothing about where the candidates will be in three, six or 12 months. What they do show is that for now there is an opportunity for any number of candidates — and that a Bush campaign seems eminently doable.