Support for a Jeb Bush candidacy in 2016 is growing as big Republican donors launch an under-the-radar push to draft the former Florida governor.
Worried about the amount of political damage “Bridgegate” caused New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and alarmed by the rise in popularity of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the GOP establishment — including traditional leaders, donors and operatives — look to Bush as their best hope.
According to Philip Rucker and Robert Costa of the Washington Post, Bush advisors continue to maintain the former governor is not actively pursuing the candidacy, saying he will make a final decision sometime by the end of 2014.
That has not stopped many of the Mitt Romney 2012 donors to reach out to Bush, in an attempt to persuade him towards a White house run with phone calls, emails and invitations. One campaign bundler told the Post that a “majority” of Romney’s top 100 contributors would line up behind Bush if the situation arose.
With a bush candidacy, however, serious vulnerabilities remain. Out of elected office for seven years, he has struggled to reconcile his positions on immigration with that of the GOP. In addition, there still is the possibility of a “hangover” with a third bush in the White House, especially after eight years of George W. Bush.
At a recent VIP-only Republican donor event held by billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, an audience member asked Bush to compete in 2016, followed with a strong round of applause.
Jeb Bush is no stranger to courting donors. In March, he headlined a reception in North Palm Beach for Virginia Senate candidate Ed Gillespie attended by businessman Lewis M. Eisenberg and former ambassador Ned Siegel along with other heavy-hitters.
Investor Scott Kapnick held a book party in Manhattan for Bush in July, with an audience of around 100 top GOP donors.
The current Republican field is wide open, and Bush is one person who can actually “bring the party together,” according to GOP official Fred Malek.
But for now, a 2016 presidential run is limited to the occasional email conversations and talks with counselors and strategists, as well as regular contact with fundraiser Jack Oliver.
One issue that could dog Bush in a campaign should he decide to start one, is his staunch support of lightning-rod issues like immigration reform and the controversial Common Core educational standards, which have come under fire from Tea Party activists.
Another issue is his name; much of a possible campaign would be devoted to emerging from the shadow of the legacy of his brother — at least in the eyes of voters.
“The ‘Bush fatigue’ question is always there,” said former Republican Mississippi governor Haley Barbour. “If his name was Jeb Brown instead of Jeb Bush, he’d be the front-runner.”
A Bush run would also affect the future of Sen. Marco Rubio, whose donor base and political network overlap with that of his fellow Floridian. Bush endorsed Rubio’s rise to the Florida House speakership, but their relationship has cooled since.
Florida Republicans acquainted with Rubio say he is moving closer to a campaign, hoping that Bush will step aside.