Jeb Bush: Is GOP elite drafting him for 2016?

Jeb Bush appears to be faring well in Republicans' so-called 'invisible primary,' amid growing concerns among big party donors and establishment officials about Chris Christie and Rand Paul.

Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal/AP
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, during a education panel discussion at Advanced Technologies Academy, in Las Vegas, on Thursday, March 27, 2014.

Jeb Bush. He’s tanned and rested. But is he ready, meaning ready to run for president?

That’s what some Republican Party bigwigs are asking as they quietly court the former Florida governor for 2016, according to a lengthy report in the Washington Post.

These members of the GOP elite – a mix of Romney campaign veterans, big money donors, and party establishment officials – are in search of a candidate to back who they think can actually win the White House.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was one of their early choices, but now they’re worried the investigation into the Ft. Lee traffic jam is hurting Christie’s chances. Meanwhile, they’re concerned about the rise of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, due to his tea party libertarianism and non-interventionist foreign policy inclinations.

Who can save them from this mess? Is it … could it be … a Bush on a white horse?

“Prominent donors, conservative leaders and longtime operatives say they consider Bush the GOP’s brightest hope to win back the White House,” report the Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa.

OK, we’ve got some comments here. The first is that this is actually news. It is not another notional poll about how Bush matches up against Hillary Clinton in Iowa. It’s hard information about the so-called “invisible primary,” in which party leaders and donors vet candidates in a winnowing period that can determine the candidate field.

This process goes both ways – potential nominees search for support, while party elites judge who they’ll back. But in the end the latter dynamic may be most important.

The authors of the Post piece “recognize that this isn’t just a matter of a candidate trolling for support within the various parts of the party establishment, but the various parts of the party establishment actively vetting a candidate, or, as they put it, a ‘draft’ is underway,” writes David Wiltse, an assistant professor at South Dakota State University, at The Invisible Primary political science blog.

Second, the key here may not be Governor Christie’s troubles, but Senator Paul’s success.

Christie has always had doubters within the top levels of the GOP, due to his perceived Northeastern moderation, and the way he distanced himself from the Romney campaign in its crucial final weeks. Paul, on the other hand, was largely ignored, seen as a version of his father, Ron Paul – a niche libertarian candidate, only with more hair.

But Paul has lit some parts of the GOP on fire with his anti-National Security Agency crusade in favor of civil liberties. He’s reached out to establishment parts of the party through such things as backing his fellow Kentuckian, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, against a tea party primary rival. He’s at or near the top of early GOP leader board polls.

In other words, he’s a threat. Yet he remains enough out of step with many top Republicans on policy matters that he’s also a threat to split the party. Thus the race to find a white knight that might stop him.

But finally: Jeb Bush, really? It’s not only that his father and brother both served as president. It’s also that he’s been out of electoral politics for some time and has problems of his own with many conservative voters.

“Bush isn’t just rusty from more than six years on the sidelines. He’s also racked up some serious hits among conservative voters for his positions on immigration and Common Core, among other things,” writes Jazz Shaw at the right-leaning Hot Air site.

In that context, if he does run, Bush may risk becoming 2016’s Romney or McCain: a candidate who unites the bulk of the GOP while draining enthusiasm from the committed conservative part of the party base.

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