While many among the GOP moneyed establishment are openly pining for a Jeb Bush candidacy, it’s clear that the GOP base isn’t quite as enthusiastic.
Given his resume and his well-known last name, it’s quite remarkable how weak the former Florida Governor starts off in a GOP primary. In a hypothetical match-up among other potential 2016ers, a recent Washington Post/ABC poll found Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul “leading” the pack at a meager 15 percent, trailed by unsuccessful 2008 candidate Mike Huckabee at 14 percent. Bush was tied for third with Paul Ryan at 12 percent.
Among self-described “very conservative” Republicans, Jeb Bush is a distant seventh, with just 7 percent. He does much better among “somewhat conservative” GOPers. Yet, he’s not exactly lapping the field. He takes 18 percent of the vote among this group – a five point lead over his closest competitor Sen. Rand Paul. The folks at NBC’s First Read report that the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Jeb Bush’s current support among Tea Party Republicans at a tepid 47% to 11%. Compare that to Tea Party favorite Rand Paul’s 59 percent to 7 percent support from this group of Republican voters.
The Bush name remains popular among the GOP. But, the support is less than enthusiastic. Asked if they had a favorable opinion of the Bush family, 88 percent of Republicans said yes. But, just 39 percent said they had a very favorable opinion of the family. Compare that to Democrats’ embrace of the Clintons: 91 percent of Democrats view the Clinton family favorably, including almost half (49 percent) who say they feel strongly about that support.
Talk to those who know Jeb Bush and they’ll tell you that family considerations are weighing most heavily on his decision to run. But, what’s most concerning to those who have worked with the former Governor is the fact that he’s been out of the game for so long. His “it’s an act of love” moment was less about “truth-telling,” they say, and more about a lack of discipline and practice. That was the same reason they gave for his confusing and contradictory response to comprehensive immigration reform last spring. Moreover, the rules of the game have changed A LOT since he was last on the ballot in 2002. Jeb has never had to campaign with SuperPACs, the Tea Party, Twitter, YouTube, or camera phones. The press has only just begun to dig into his private sector work, which will bring its own set of controversies. And then there’s his support of Common Core education standards which run counter to that of the GOP base.
The GOP is in a similar position to where Democrats were prior to the 2008 election. Like Democrats back then, the GOP is both desperate to finally win back the White House, but also desperate for a change. Hillary Clinton had the sizzle of a frontrunner back in 2006-07, but the polling told a different story. A Gallup poll back in June of 2006 found then-Senator Hillary Clinton with a less-than-impressive lead over a hypothetical field of Democratic candidates. She led former VP Al Gore 36 to 16 percent, with John Edwards in third at 12 percent.
Jeb Bush has the capacity to lead the GOP into the future, most specifically by helping them bridge the demographic chasm between the growing minority population and the GOP brand. As a Spanish-speaking former Governor of a diverse state, Bush has an authority and experience that no other candidates possess. But that experience also comes with a price.
According the Washington Post/ABC poll, moderate and independent voters (i.e., swing voters) feel much more favorably toward the Clinton name than the Bush name. Among moderate voters, the Bush family name has a 52 percent favorable to 46 percent unfavorable rating. The Clinton name, however, is much more popular, with 69 percent of moderates viewing the Clinton family favorably to just 28 percent viewing them unfavorably. Among self-described independents, the Clinton family name is also more popular than the Bush name: 64 percent to 55 percent.
It’s easy to understand why those within the GOP establishment like the idea of a Jeb Bush candidacy. At a time when many of those in the establishment feel under assault from the Tea Party wing of the party, Jeb Bush represents the political equivalent of a comfy old sweater. However, what the Acela-corridor money types want and what the GOP base wants are clearly quite different. It’s not to say that Jeb Bush can’t win a GOP primary. It will, however, be a long, hard slog.
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