Jeb Bush Inches Closer to a Run

(The Dallas Morning News/TNS) -

It took only hours for Jeb Bush’s announcement he will “actively explore” a presidential bid to show the former Florida governor what running for the White House is like these days.

“Jeb’s Romneyesque private equity issues make him an appetizing potential opponent for Democrats,” said American Bridge 21st Century, a pro-Democratic group that monitors Republican candidates.

The conservative Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal warned Bush’s support for the Common Core education standards, against which the GOP right has campaigned, “threatens to overshadow his likely campaign.”

And Bush hasn’t even decided to run. Still, last week’s announcement and his disclosure that he’ll release thousands of emails from his gubernatorial tenure, make his final decision pretty evident.

While it’s soon to label anyone the Republican front-runner, his prospective candidacy is the most significant move to date in the GOP presidential race.

At the least, Bush is likely to be a major player in that race. If he runs, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney probably won’t. And more than most likely hopefuls, the latest heir to the Bush political dynasty has the potential to go all the way.

But he faces at least four potential roadblocks:

  • Would a third President Bush be one too many?

His older brother, George W. Bush, benefited from good memories about his father, President George H. W. Bush, and some retroactive regrets he had been denied a second term.

Some of that remains, though brother George’s legacy is decidedly more mixed: he got the United States enmeshed in Iraq and presided over the onset of the Great Recession. But public feeling toward him has improved, helped by his successor’s unpopularity and his own classy post-presidential demeanor.

It’s hard to tell if Bush 41’s woes will prevent the Bushes from becoming the first American family with three presidents. But any potential dynasty problem may be lessened by the prospective candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

  • Can he survive an ever faster and more treacherous nominating process?

Bush last faced voters in 2002, a dozen years ago. The speed of everything political has increased substantially in the age of [social media], and the internet has enabled anyone to discover and publicize a candidate’s flaws and missteps.

Candidates generally underestimate the big contrast between running statewide, even in a competitive one like Florida, and running nationally. That must be multiplied several times in Bush’s case.

In last year’s book tour, he looked rusty, prone to giving imprecise answers about his own views. He’ll have to do better as a candidate.

  • How damaging is his support for Common Core, comprehensive immigration reform and possible tax increases to cut the deficit, all three outside the current GOP mainstream?

We’ll learn pretty fast, from how his rivals raise these issues and Republican voters react. He won’t be the favorite candidate of the Tea Party and its conservative GOP allies.

But every Republican race has room for a more moderate candidate, and they often win the nomination — John McCain 2008, Romney 2012. Though Bush was a solidly conservative governor, he may benefit from the contrast between his low-key demeanor and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bluster or fellow Floridian Marco Rubio’s rabid neo-conservatism.

Past races suggest Bush, like Romney in 2012, could do surprisingly well in the conservative-dominated Iowa caucuses, since the votes of the roughly two-thirds who traditionally back conservatives may split far more ways than those of the one-third who back moderates.

  • Will his complex financial holdings undercut his candidacy as happened to Romney?

Joshua Green’s account in Bloomberg Businessweek of his financial activities raised that very question, especially his overseas investments.

But he’s running as a Bush, not as a businessman, so it’s possible only improprieties would hurt.

While those factors may hurt, other aspects might help. For example, his more moderate position on immigration and his past appeal to Hispanics may create problems for Democrats.

“I think he would be the toughest guy for us,” former National Chairman Howard Dean told The Washington Post.

That view is widely held. But first, Bush will have to survive the landmines along the Republican nominating road.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com.