Finally, after months and months of hand-wringing, fingernail-chewing and nervous pacing, the world will know June 15 whether Jeb Bush is going to run for president.
WHAT WILL HE SAY!?
He will say, of course, that he is running for president.* This is the same thing he has been doing, actively but unofficially, for at least the last six months. And we will cover it as though this is a breaking news event on par with a natural disaster or a 23-inning baseball game.
Here's some breaking news for you: It is not a breaking news event.
While all candidates -- and campaigns -- draw out their announcement schedule long after they have made up their mind in order to raise interest (and by interest, I mean money), Bush has taken the "exploratory" phase of a campaign to its logical extreme with his if-I-runsmanship over the last six months.
"Lawyers say Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, is stretching the limits of election law by crisscrossing the country, hiring a political team and raising tens of millions of dollars at fund-raisers, all without declaring — except once, by mistake — that he is a candidate," wrote Eric Lichtblau and Nick Corasanti this week. The duo quote Karl Sandstrom, a former Federal Election Commissioner and a campaign finance lawyer, saying that Bush's approach "makes a mockery of the law."
Right. Here's the thing: The only reason Jeb hasn't announced for president is because by not doing so, he has allowed himself to raise oodles of cash for his Right To Rise super PAC. Once he says "I'm running," Jeb can't coordinate with the super PAC anymore, which takes the super PAC's fundraising power down several notches. But as long as Bush is "actively exploring" a candidacy, he can go to these events, talk about the platform he would run on and ask those donors to be supportive in the event he runs.
The reason Bush has drawn this process out even further than others: He has taken the novel step of essentially outsourcing much of his campaign to the super PAC, which can raise money in unlimited amounts. When he officially launches, he won't be able to control precisely what the super PAC does, but he gets the benefit of no contribution limits.
It's all very wink wink, nudge nudge, and it speaks to the ridiculousness of campaign finance law in the modern age. The idea that Jeb Bush is somehow not an official candidate because he hasn't filed his "statement of candidacy" with the FEC is absolutely ludicrous.
Ask yourself this: Is there any doubt in your mind that Jeb Bush will announce he is running for president in 11 days time? Any? And then ask yourself when the last time was that you had any doubt about him running? Four months ago? More?
This exchange between Bob Schieffer and Bush over the weekend on CBS' "Face the Nation" makes quite clear how thinly stretched Bush's equivocations on a candidacy are.
Schieffer: Do you think, in some way, you may be just at least violating the spirit of the law? Do you feel that you have violated the law?
Jeb: No, of course not. I would never do that. And I'm nearing the end of this journey of traveling and listening to people, garnering, trying to get a sense of whether my candidacy would be viable or not. We're going to completely adhere to the law, for sure. Look, politics is politics. There's always people that are going to be carping on the sidelines. And should I be a candidate, and that will be in the relatively near future where that decision will be made, there'll be no coordination at all with any super P.A.C.
Schieffer: Now, you're not telling me that there's a possibility you may not run?
Jeb: I, look, I hope, I hope I run, to be honest with you. I'd like to run, but I haven't made the decision.
Even Jeb had trouble selling that last line.
Bush is, of course, taking advantage of the holes in campaign finance law. Common sense makes clear he is running for president. But, campaign finance law isn't dictated by common sense -- obviously.
All advocates for common sense reigning in politics can hope for is that the way in which Bush has stretched the law will force the FEC (or Congress) to reconsider the way in which a candidate becomes a candidate. Judging from the level of activity out of the FEC (and Congress) in recent years, however, I wouldn't hold my breath.
* If Bush says he isn't running on June 15, I take it all back. Also, I will eat my hat.