After stretching the definition of what it meant to be a candidate, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush officially hopped into the presidential race on Monday, ending the suspense and placing restrictions on his campaign fundraising efforts. Bush, who has struggled in the last few months to avoid media gaffes, is nonetheless considered to be the favorite going into the primaries. But he has a lot of ground to make up if he wants to emerge a solid contender in the general election.
Bush made his announcement in Miami, promising to “take Washington – the static capital of this dynamic country – out of the business of causing problems.”
Bush has been popular among big donors, but he has not raised the kind of money many expected him to. It was all but academic a few months ago that Bush would have a $100,000,000 war chest with which to campaign. Sources, however, say that he has fallen far short of that lofty goal. There is considerable concern inside the establishment that Bush will be unable to overcome a number of significant obstacles.
Among those obstacles? His name. Americans are clearly bothered by the prospect of Bush vs. Clinton II, and more than a few analysts have made mention of the danger of dynasties. This kind of fear may or may not be justified, but it rings true to voters who don’t spent a lot of time on politics. On the surface, where it’s all about sensationalism and spectacle, being able to dismiss a candidate by saying, “Ugh, another Bush?” allows them the pleasure of not having to think.
On the other hand, conservatives have much to be cautious of when it comes to Bush. He has a position on illegal immigration that strikes many as far too inclusive. He has declined to attack President Obama with the kind of ferocity that many of his opponents have. He is a staunch supporter of Common Core, which also puts him at odds with the base. Can he overcome these challenges without flip-flopping?
A more immediate concern is his inability to avoid foot-in-mouth disease. In a political environment where voters make decisions based on how candidates are portrayed on Saturday Night Live, Bush has to get better about presenting his message. His confusing stance on the Iraq War may have cost him more voters than he knows.
Over the next six months, conservatives will have to decide whether they want to follow their hearts or whether they want someone “electable.” And in coming to that decision, voters should think carefully about the last two presidential elections. In both instances, we went with the “electable” candidate and we got trounced. Does that mean that Bush will meet the same fate? Not necessarily. We’re not facing Obama and Bush is not McCain or Romney. But at the same time, President Jeb Bush would not pursue the same policies as a President Scott Walker or a President Rand Paul. Conservatives need to decide this one for themselves, most importantly of all. We can’t let the media choose our candidate. If we want to take a chance on the moderate, let it be a chance we take ourselves.
Then, at least, we can own the consequences.