Hillary Rodham Clinton has a favorable rating of 54 percent, versus just 36 percent for Jeb Bush, according to the latest George Washington University Battleground Poll.
But don’t assume that will discourage Mr. Bush, the former two-term governor of Florida, from getting into the 2016 presidential race. Those numbers might actually encourage Bush to jump in, says Republican pollster Ed Goeas. He was speaking Tuesday at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.
“All of a sudden, it’s no longer ‘too many Bushes,’ ” says Mr. Goeas, who conducts the Battleground Poll with Democrat Celinda Lake. “It becomes two very powerful political families going up against each other.”
Bush and Mrs. Clinton both spoke at a conference on higher education Tuesday near Dallas. They were not on stage together, but just appearing at the same event was good enough to spark another round of Hillary-Jeb 2016 headlines.
In fact, Bush has been sounding more positive lately about a possible campaign. So has his mother, Barbara Bush, wife and mother of ex-presidents. Last year, the family matriarch declared that “we’ve had enough Bushes” in the White House. But earlier this month, she changed her tune and called her No. 2 son “the best qualified person in the country.”
Some folks may find the idea of a Clinton-Bush presidential matchup distasteful. After all, Americans are famous for telling their kids they could grow up to be president someday. You don’t have to belong to a political “royal family” to rise to the top, the thinking goes. Mrs. Bush called it “silly” to think that “we can’t find more than two or three families to run for high office.” Indeed, Presidents Clinton and Obama both have humble origins.
But there’s a lot to be said for coming from a political family. That’s especially true now with the presidency. The fundraising demands alone have never been more daunting. Ditto the demand to organize staff and volunteers around the country. If Hillary Clinton runs, she’s the instant favorite to win the Democratic nomination, in part because she can activate both with the snap of her fingers.
Jeb Bush, too, could do the same to some degree. “Bush” is still a leading brand in the Republican establishment. Jeb’s son, George P. Bush, is on track to win election in November as Texas land commissioner. He would become the fourth generation of Bushes to hold elective office, starting with Sen. Prescott Bush (R) of Connecticut.
But when it comes to presidential talk, there’s that issue of “too many Bushes,” otherwise known as “Bush fatigue.” Americans remember Bush’s father’s presidency fondly, but less so his brother’s, which ended just five years ago. On the plus side, public ratings of the second President Bush have been ticking upward. Perhaps by 2015, when major contenders are declaring their intentions, enough time will have passed for Jeb to feel the nation is ready for another Bush.
As the Battleground Poll shows, Bush would have his work cut out for him. Among likely voters, 40 percent hold an unfavorable view of him. Chances are, some voters are conflating him with his older brother, pollsters have suggested. In theory, Jeb Bush should be able to clarify to voters that he’s not George W. Bush. And working in his favor is the Battleground Poll’s finding that 18 percent of likely voters have no opinion of him, and 7 percent have never heard of him.
Clinton has a much smaller cushion. Her negative rating is higher than Bush’s, 42 percent. Only 4 percent have no opinion, and 1 percent have never heard of her.
Americans might also get some perspective on political dynasties from presidential scholar Stephen Hess. In a 2009 Washington Post op-ed on the subject, the Brookings Institution scholar ranked the Bush dynasty at only sixth in the nation, based on a point system he developed. The Kennedys ranked first, with one president, three senators, five representatives, and a cabinet member. (Since that article, another Kennedy -- Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D) of Massachusetts -- has added to the family record.)
The Bushes have two presidents, one vice president, two governors, one senator, and one member of the House. In all, there are four dynasties with two American presidents. Besides the Bushes, they are the Adamses, the Harrisons, and the Roosevelts.
Mr. Hess’s advice on building a dynasty: “Have a lot of kids,” he told USA Today.
On that count, Barbara Bush is a winner. She has five living children, and a slew of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In her change of heart about Jeb earlier this month, she noted that history is on her side when it comes to prominent political families and the presidency.
“I read ‘The Bully Pulpit’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin,” Mrs. Bush told Fox News, “and she points out that in 1700, there were only three families, so maybe it’s OK.”