By far the most conspicuous assertion whispered among GOP operatives these days is the notion that "If his last name wasn't Bush, Jeb would be the front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2012." Quite an astounding contention considering the Democratic electoral landslides of 2006 and 2008 resulted from campaigns run unequivocally against the record of Jeb's brother, George W. Bush.
Although Democrats would likely relish the opportunity to take on another Bush in 2012, leftist operatives should employ caution when constructing this fantasy scenario. Jeb Bush is neither his father nor his brother and his background and record merit at the very least a cursory examination.
It's no secret that President George H.W. "Poppy" Bush long considered Jeb to be the brightest political star in the family. Jeb Bush is a serious and thoughtful public figure who works and speaks decisively about important issues of the day. His long-term work with think tanks and policy institutes attest to his genuine interest in the minutiae of public policy.
Generally considered a philosophical leader of the modern conservative movement, Bush governed a politically difficult state with enthusiastic approval from a majority of its citizens. The first Republican governor of Florida to serve two full terms, Bush's gubernatorial record is heralded for his focus on improving public education. Bush implemented several initially controversial but ultimately successful public school reform initiatives--including higher education reform--that, not surprisingly, focused on the conservative planks of school vouchers and charter schools. Bush also garnered praise for his attempt to strike a compromise between oil companies and environmentalists regarding protection of the Everglades.
Politically, Bush constructed a diverse group of supporters that, most notably, included a large bloc of Hispanics (a demographic that Republicans appear to be losing at the moment). Much of this support was due to his strong standing in the Florida Cuban community as well as his long-time marriage to his Colombian wife--whom he met while on a religious missionary trip while still in high school. Bush appears to be the rarest of GOP politicians, one who can successfully toe the line between conservative darling and big tent Republican advocate.
Politically, the odds appear slim that Bush will opt for a run in 2012. Despite recent public setbacks and sinking approval ratings, President Obama remains a formidable general opponent, largely due to his massive grassroots network and the likelihood that some form of economic recovery will manifest before the next presidential election. Furthermore, at 57, Bush is still quite young by political standards, and is rumored to be keeping his powder dry for 2016. Doing so permits him to further build his brand, his fundraising and outreach lists, and hone his stump speeches and policies. Additionally, Jeb is likely banking on the Bush name regaining some popularity with the passage of time (as is the case with virtually all former U.S. presidents) and that the country will be ready for a Republican in the White House by 2016 should Obama win again in 2012.
One interesting tangent posited is the alleged Jeb pick for the vice presidential slot by whoever wins the Republican nomination. It isn't difficult to envision why he would prove to be an asset to a national GOP ticket. His broad appeal among conservatives, moderates, and Hispanics; his record of achievement as governor; and his almost certain ability to deliver the crown jewel of presidential swing states—Florida--all make him an attractive choice. The double edged sword, of course, is that the presence of another Bush on the ballot would almost certainly provide fodder for the Democratic base.
Bush is rumored not to be interested in the VP slot this go-around, but it wouldn't be surprising if he were to be heavily courted by the eventual GOP nominee.
Either way, he is certainly one to watch.