Jeb Bush for Veep?

Speculation among Republican strategists is that Bush won’t run for president in 2016, but might be willing to be a strong conservative’s running mate.

National Journal
Tom DeFrank
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Tom DeFrank
June 16, 2014, 5:34 p.m.

Even be­fore Eric Can­tor’s seis­mic loss to a polit­ic­al novice backed by the tea party last week, many Re­pub­lic­an eld­ers had con­cluded that Jeb Bush, who really wants to be­come the third Pres­id­ent Bush, won’t run in 2016.

The emer­ging con­sensus ex­plains why some of these party man­dar­ins have launched a new polit­ic­al boom­let tout­ing the ex-Flor­ida gov­ernor: Jeb for Veep.

At first the no­tion seems a little weird. While a re­li­able ideo­lo­gic­al con­ser­vat­ive, Bush is a dreaded main­stream Re­pub­lic­an. Worse yet for many on the Right, he’s a fer­vent boost­er of com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form. That pro­vokes apo­plexy among many tea-party faith­ful and oth­er GOP con­ser­vat­ives.

With Can­tor’s de­feat blamed in part on his ap­par­ent will­ing­ness to en­ter­tain a middle ground on im­mig­ra­tion, Bush as second ba­nana on a tick­et headed by a more con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an would seem to be a non­starter.

Not so fast, some GOP heavy-hit­ters main­tain.

“Jeb would be per­fectly ac­cept­able to the base if the nom­in­ee is a proven con­ser­vat­ive,” said a prom­in­ent Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant. “If it’s [New Jer­sey Gov. Chris] Christie or some mod­er­ate, Jeb would be a no go. On the oth­er hand, if a right-wing nom­in­ee wanted to make a bow to­wards the middle and add some His­pan­ic vote ap­peal, Jeb would be a good choice.”

“He has name ID, a Span­ish back­ground, [is] a former gov­ernor, and he’s con­ser­vat­ive.”

Le­gendary polit­ic­al op­er­at­ive Stu Spen­cer was even more em­phat­ic about Jeb’s value to a party anxious to at­tract in­de­pend­ents and swing Demo­crats in 2016.

“Jeb could be a safe choice for any­body,” said Spen­cer, who worked for three Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ents. “He has name ID, a Span­ish back­ground, [is] a former gov­ernor, and he’s con­ser­vat­ive.”

Iron­ic­ally, it was Spen­cer who pushed Ron­ald Re­agan to pick Jeb’s fath­er, George H.W. Bush, as his run­ning mate in 1980. En route to the De­troit con­ven­tion, Spen­cer told Re­agan he needed a No. 2 more mod­er­ate than him­self to beat Pres­id­ent Carter. At first Re­agan balked, be­liev­ing Bush a little too squishy. But even­tu­ally he sided with Spen­cer, Bush cam­paign man­ager James Baker, and oth­er mod­er­ates, and tapped Bush for the tick­et.

Like Re­agan, a con­ser­vat­ive 2016 nom­in­ee would be­ne­fit from the per­cep­tion of pick­ing a more mod­er­ate run­ning mate, Spen­cer ar­gued.

“He’s the per­fect No. 2 for any Re­pub­lic­an tick­et,” said a top GOP fun­draiser who echoed Spen­cer in pro­mot­ing Bush. “It makes a world of sense.”

A spokes­man for Bush called such spec­u­la­tion “very pre­ma­ture.”

Bush has re­mained rig­or­ously quiet about his op­tions — even broth­er George W. Bush re­mains in the dark about his young­er sib­ling’s lean­ings. He’s told in­siders what he says pub­licly: He’ll talk with his fam­ily after the Novem­ber midterm elec­tions and de­cide soon there­after.

But his wife Columba’s big-time op­pos­i­tion to a pres­id­en­tial run leads many Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers to as­sume Jeb Bush won’t be a can­did­ate. That doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily rule out a spot on the tick­et; giv­en the Bush fam­ily’s sense of pub­lic ser­vice, it might be hard for Bush to re­ject an ap­peal from the GOP nom­in­ee to help out.

Bush is an un­abashed con­ser­vat­ive, the the­ory goes, but a kinder, gentler ver­sion who can ap­peal to main­stream Re­pub­lic­ans, con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats, and in­de­pend­ents. He would even the­or­et­ic­ally pass muster with con­ser­vat­ive red-hots who think he’s too es­tab­lish­ment — es­pe­cially since he speaks Span­ish like a nat­ive and is pop­u­lar with His­pan­ic voters turned off by the GOP’s hard line on im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

“A straight-up tea-party tick­et can­not win,” adds one of the GOP’s most prom­in­ent fun­draisers. “Too many Re­pub­lic­ans and in­de­pend­ents will just flat-out not vote for a tick­et with two tea-party guys. It will not hap­pen.”

And if he has to cam­paign for only three months as a veep nom­in­ee in­stead of more than two years swim­ming up­stream to be pres­id­ent, a seni­or Bush fam­ily source pre­dicts his wife would sign off. “Be­ing picked for pres­id­ent-in-wait­ing would be ideal for him and his fam­ily,” the con­sult­ant said.

Bush’s pro­spects for the second spot would test wheth­er the no-pris­on­ers Right look­ing to purge the party of main­stream Re­pub­lic­ans could abide an­oth­er Bush — or if, like the prag­mat­ic con­ser­vat­ive Re­agan, they’re will­ing to throw a bone to the middle to boost their chances of cap­tur­ing the White House.

At least for the mo­ment, that’s not a pop­u­lar no­tion in some con­ser­vat­ive quar­ters.

“If you put someone on the tick­et who sup­ports Com­mon Core [edu­ca­tion stand­ards] and bank bail­outs and the list goes on, you are tak­ing grass­roots en­ergy away from your can­did­acy,” said Freedom­Works com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or Jack­ie Bod­nar. “Pick­ing a Jeb Bush would really demon­strate how out of touch the tra­di­tion­al, old-guard Re­pub­lic­ans are with their con­stitu­ents back home.”

But Alf­onso Aguilar of the Latino Part­ner­ship for Con­ser­vat­ive Prin­ciples calls Bush “a smart and in­tel­li­gent choice” for po­ten­tial pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ees like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz or Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“Jeb Bush would de­liv­er Flor­ida for Re­pub­lic­ans, in­crease our abil­ity to raise money, and is prac­tic­ally His­pan­ic,” Aguilar said. “If the choice is made by the top of the tick­et and he is a con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ate, I think the con­ser­vat­ive base would go along with it.”

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