A quick review of potential Republican presidential candidates for 2016 comes up with more than 20 possible candidates. They range from the serious (Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Scott Walker), to the strong (Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan), to the possible (John Kasich, Rob Portman, Mike Huckabee) to the hopeless (Sara Palin, Allen West, Rick Santorum and John Bolton).
Most political analysts have not considered Jeb as a serious political contender for 2016, but opinions are rapidly changing. Larry Sabato, editor of the Crystal Ball, did not even have Jeb on his last list of potential GOP candidates. In his new presidential projections, released last week, Sabato moves Jeb to the front runner for Republicans.
Some see 2016 as Jeb's “now or never” moment. Age and political circumstances would make a Bush run in the future much more unlikely.
Jeb had no interest in running in 2008 and 2012 and quickly took his name out of consideration. This is not the case concerning 2016. Anna Navarro, a close friend of Jeb, says, “In the past he has shut the door completely. This time he's telling us he is going to think about it.”
He indicates he will decide by late summer. “The decision will be made based on, can I do it joyfully? Because I think we need candidates to lift our spirits. It's a pretty pessimistic country right now. And is it right for my family?”
As a two-term governor of Florida, Jeb compiled an impressive record of accomplishments. To begin with, he transformed the office from a weak position to one of power, something needed for the leader of the nation's fourth-largest state. The cabinet was cut from six to three members, and the governor was given the authority to hire the secretary of education and secretary of state.
The governor's appointment powers were also strengthened, especially with respect to the judiciary.
Under Jeb, Florida became a model for the nation in emergency management. Bush's strong leadership during eight hurricanes helped to assure and protect Florida's residents. His head of emergency management assumed the same position in the Obama administration.
Bush appointed high numbers of women, Hispanics and African-Americans to positions in his administration and on the courts. Toni Jennings became Florida's first female lieutenant governor, and Raoul Cantero III became the first Hispanic member of the Florida Supreme Court.
On the economy, Florida experienced the highest rate of job creation in the nation and had a 3 percent unemployment rate in 2006.
Jeb reduced taxes in each of his eight years, with a total of $20 billion in cuts.
Bush pushed a land acquisition program to preserve and protect Florida's environment, as well as leading the state-federal effort to restore the Everglades.
Perhaps Bush's singular achievement was educational reform of K-12. Imposing rigorous standards and testing, Florida schools went from below average to above the national average in math for the first time. Many of the highest achievement gains were among minorities.
Bush's eight years as governor were transformative. Peter Dunbar, a Tallahassee attorney and former state legislator, describe Jeb as “the most transformative governor in modern Florida history.” Even with his aggressive agenda, Bush's approval rating in his eighth and final year in office was 55 percent, a truly astounding accomplishment in itself.
Unlike other candidates, Jeb does not need to decide early whether to run. The Bush organizational and financial network can be cranked up overnight. In addition, Bush would inherit much of the organization and financial support from the Romney campaign. Politically, Jeb could appeal to a broader segment of the electorate than any other Republican candidate. His wife, Columba, is Mexican, and Bush speaks Spanish fluently. If George W. received 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, one can only speculate how well Jeb would do. As the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, Jeb could help turn blue states red.
Finally, Jeb would broaden the appeal of the Republican Party.
At the 2013 meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), Jeb chastised Republicans for being “anti-everything” and said that they must be “the party of inclusion and acceptance.”
Bush received a chilly response from the CPAC audience, but I believe most Americans were saying “right on.”
Jeb's political obstacles
The No. 1 one issue facing Jeb Bush is the dynasty question. We have already had two Bushes in the White House; would voters accept a third?
Critics point to Jeb's mother Barbara, who wondered “if we can't find more than two or three families to run for high office ...” Those critics fail to mention that his mother also said Jeb is “the most qualified person in the country to run for the White House in 2016.”
A recent Washington Post/ABC News Poll also raised concerns about a Bush candidacy. Only 6 percent of respondents said they would definitely vote for Jeb while 48 percent said they definitely would not vote for him. This is a problem, but by no means insurmountable. If Barack Obama followed the polls, he never would have challenged Hillary Clinton.
A final issue for Jeb is his relationship with tea party activists who are critical in Republican primaries.
Jeb is, and always has been, a conservative.
When a moderator at a forum referred to Jeb as a “moderate,” Bush responded in mock outrage. “You just attacked me by calling me a moderate. I am temperate in tone, I hope. I don't change my message to any group.”
Jeb has outraged tea party supporters by his support of Common Core educational standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Tea party members view Common Core as federal control of education.
Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Government, argues that Jeb “is not only in the wrong side, but he is leading the charge in the wrong direction.”
Meckler calls Jeb's support of Common Core a “deal killer for the tea party at large.”
The bottom line
Many party elders refer to Jeb as “the only adult in the room” among the Republican field. Others see Jeb as the “Goldilocks candidate.” Not too conservative; not too centrist. Experienced as governor of a mega-state, but not a career politician.
Jeb should run for president for two reasons. First, he is the best candidate in the Republican field and has much to offer the nation based on his proven track record as governor. Second, Bush can appeal to a broader segment of the electorate than any other Republican candidate.
It is true that some of the poll numbers are not good at the moment, but the task of every candidate is to give the voter a compelling reason to vote for them. Jeb can do that better than any other candidate.
I, for one, hope that Jeb will run.
Darryl Paulson is professor emeritus of government at USF-St. Petersburg.