Sabato’s Crystal Ball: New, familiar name tops 2016 GOP – Jeb Bush

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In conversations about the large, and quite unsettled, 2016 GOP presidential field, the discussion inevitably comes back to one familiar name —Jeb Bush.

That wasn’t always the case; write Kyle Kondik and Larry Sabato. Back in April of last year, Sabato’s Crystal Ball did not even list the former Florida governor, brother and son of presidents. It wasn’t clear if he was even in the running.

But now, everything has changed, so much so that Kondik and Sabato believe Bush to be the GOP leader.

That is if he chooses to participate.

One reason for Jeb’s rise has nothing to do with the man himself, at least on the surface — the “Bridgegate” scandal plaguing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

To assess the 2016 race, and how Christie’s troubles could alter the field, Kondik and Sabato say you have to go back to before 2012.

In August 2011, Christie received a call from former President George W. Bush, where the two talked for about 45 minutes on the pros and cons of running for president. Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, soon received a call former First Lady Barbara Bush, who also talked of the pluses of raising a family in the White House.

Christie also took a meeting with top Bush advisor Karl Rove as well as other Republican heavyweights, both those close to the Bushes and not.

Christie, who was in his first term as New Jersey’s chief, decided to pass.

Fast forward to 2014; Christie’s troubles seem damage the favorite candidate of the Bush family, leaving a void that only Jeb Bush can fill.

Christie, who won reelection last year by an enormous 60 percent, clearly has a powerful sway on Jeb’s decision to join the 2016 race. But Bridgegate changed all that.

However, there is another reason third Bush run for the White House is so appealing, says Kondik and Sabato — the establishment loves Jeb Bush.

There is an “unmistakable and widespread desire” with many Republicans, especially ones considered in the establishment both on and off Capitol Hill, for another bush candidacy.

When mentioning other potential candidates, the discussion kept coming back to Jeb. It’s clear that he is the only candidate with which they are most comfortable.

This appeal could be a function of a “natural conservatism” in political party leaders searching for a strong candidate. A proven commodity is certainly tempting. Bush can raise boatloads of money without too much “hand holding” of donors.

The same forces also explain Hillary Clinton’s supposed frontrunner status among Democrats — a “conservative” compulsion (for lack of a better word) in the Party.

“No surprises” is a viable political strategy for actually winning elections.

But Bush is still playing his cards close to the vest; maybe he doesn’t know himself if he will run, and there are many ways this could play out.

Christie could recover, and move back up to the top tier. Americans, known for short attention spans, could embrace the embattled governor once again. Or Bush could step aside and support another candidate, like fellow Floridian Marco Rubio.

So other than putting Jeb Bush at the top of Sabato’s Crystal Ball ratings, the list of 2016 presidential contenders stays pretty much as it has—Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker remains an “intriguing option” for Republicans, but he has the previously unmentioned  disadvantage of never finishing college. But neither did Harry Truman, considered a “near great” by historians. 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.