If history is any guide, we can expect to see the leading figures in the 2016 presidential race begin to announce their candidacies in the next couple of months. Ahead of the last election without an incumbent, 2008, Hillary Clinton launched her exploratory committee on Jan. 20, 2007 — exactly two years before George W. Bush’s successor would be sworn in. Barack Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney all spoke publicly about their intentions to run before the end of February 2007.
A past candidate like Clinton can afford to wait a bit longer to make a formal announcement, but first-time candidates want to jump into the fray early so they can secure staff and donors, begin to shape the debate, and possibly ward off other contenders. So it comes as no surprise that 2016 watchers are keeping a particularly close eye on perhaps the biggest Republican name in the potential field: Jeb Bush.
Yesterday, speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council event, Bush did nothing to tamp down speculation that he will indeed run. He declined to make an announcement or give a time table for doing so — saying only he would make up his mind “in short order” — but he offered an outline of what his top issues would be if he were to get into the race. Here’s a summary of Bush’s platform from the Journal (subscription required):
“(A)n ‘all-in’ energy policy that expands the use of the nation’s natural resources; a reduction in business regulations; a simpler tax code; an ‘economically driven’ overhaul of the immigration system; and a ‘radical transformation’ of the education system. …
“After all of those issues are addressed, Mr. Bush said, the nation needs to tackle ‘the other big thing that is not going to happen soon, which is entitlement reform.'”
There aren’t a lot of details here, but the Journal’s account offers more of a description of Bush’ thinking on education and immigration, starting with the former:
“The changes he proposed regarding education would break up the ‘politicized, unionized, government-run monopolies’ of local school districts and better serve the needs of individual children, he explained.
“Mr. Bush spoke forcefully about his interest in overhauling the education system. ‘The fact is, the end is near if we don’t fix this,’ he said, calling it a tragedy when low-income children are relegated to failing public schools.
“He reiterated his support for higher academic standards — whether they are the Common Core national standards or other equally rigorous benchmarks — and for testing to measure whether students are meeting them. ‘If you don’t measure, you really don’t care,’ he said.
“‘I’ve lost my patience on this,’ Mr. Bush said, referring to what he described as an unwillingness among special interests to improve public education.”
That’s an interesting mix of thoughts on education that appear born of experience in reforming education — something Bush spent a great deal of time and political capital on during his two terms as Florida’s governor. But they will also make it tough to pigeon-hole him ideologically. Common Core is unpopular among many conservative activists, though opinion polling indicates the notion of high educational standards enjoys strong support among Republicans and Democrats alike. While Bush personally endorses Common Core, that line about “other equally rigorous benchmarks” could allow him to finesse the issue with conservatives who support high standards but are suspicious of national standards. He would seem to be on firmer ground with conservatives and many independents with his line of attack on teacher unions and local school monopolies, although that, too, depends on the details. Is this only about how federal funds are spent, or would he try something as daring as breaking up unions on the local level? Like high academic standards, the latter is something many Americans could support in principle but find worrisome if done by the federal government.
Then there’s Bush on the other issue that puts him out of step with many conservatives, immigration reform:
“Mr. Bush said he disagrees with President Barack Obama’s decision to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation through executive action that bypasses Congress, but he cautioned Republicans to take the lead on the issue ‘rather than have their heads explode.’
“He said the immigration system should expand access to the U.S. based on the country’s economic needs and prioritize allowing ‘first-round draft picks’ to come, rather than uniting families. ‘It’s probably the easiest way to get to sustained economic growth, which is what we desperately need,’ he noted.”
That sounds like it could mean a few things, from focusing on a guest-worker program to working mostly on attracting and keeping high-skilled immigrants in fields such as IT. As with education, how successfully Bush could push those issues as a candidate would depend on exactly how he casts them.
It’s a myth, though, that the GOP primary electorate makes it impossible for a centrist/moderate candidate to emerge as the nominee. Even if we push Bush’s brother firmly in the conservative category — something many conservatives would dispute, given his record on spending, among other things — it remains true that Republicans have nominated relatively moderate folks in five of the past seven cycles: Romney, McCain, Bob Dole and Bush’s father (twice). In fact, Bush’s ability to win as more of a moderate could depend in large part on which other Republicans get into the race and how they split the votes of various constituencies. For instance, his candidacy could keep fellow Floridian Marco Rubio from running, which could alter the dynamics of the race in several ways. Whether Chris Christie runs would make an equally significant impact on the race.
But looking simply at the platform Bush outlined — and ignoring from now the question of whether Americans will vote for another Bush — what do you make of the issues and stances he’s staking out?