This morning, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tweeted the 19 most anticlimactic words in the English language: "I am excited to announce I will actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States." That tweet, couched in the unbelievably safe language of a man who is definitely running for president, linked to a Facebook post with the full announcement, in which Bush said he came to the decision after spending Thanksgiving with his family. He promised to have "conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation," and to launch a PAC in January that would "support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans."
With his bland non-announcement, Jeb Bush kickstarted the 2016 presidential election cycle. What he started this morning will not stop until Wednesday, November 9th of 2016. It's all very by-the-book. It's exactly as safe and congenial a rollout of a pre-rollout as you'd expect from a man with two former presidents in his immediate family. The comments on the Facebook post have less of that proper Bush dullness:
- Here's Jeb Bush's official gubernatorial photograph. Look away from this picture and I guarantee you will never remember what Jeb Bush even looks like.
please run for bamerica jeb bush we love you
another President Bush sounds great to me, Thank You for your service
Sorry, would rather see America take a bullet to the head than slowly drown in a sea of liberal Republicans and Democrats. Will vote for the most conservative person out there even if I have to write it in.
Jeb, we need a conservative not a compromiser.
Facebook comments aside, this bit of hot air pushed out onto social media will definitely have repercussions. For one thing, Bush's announcement is probably the final nail in the coffin of the Mitt Romney 2016 movement. For another thing, it confuses Marco Rubio's presidential chances, if a politician as milquetoast as Marco Rubio could ever have been said to truly have "presidential chances." And finally, Bush's stuffy prep-school patrician vibe will make a juicy target for Senator Rand Paul, who'll be happy to have a proper Republican machine to rage against, even if their "combat" will actually just be a petty fencing match between two whiny sons of influential Texas politicians.
So what are Jeb's chances? Is he really a serious contender, both for the nomination and the presidency? Yeah, absolutely.
Bush has some serious problems with the Republican base. They don't like his commitment to Common Core education standards, and they think he's a pushover when it comes to immigration. And Bush considers education and immigration to be his two signature issues, which ought to make the primaries a lot of fun. But hell, Mitt Romney basically invented Obamacare and he figured a way to work around that, so I'm sure Bush's big money could buy his way out of those particular holes. If I were a betting man, I'd consider Bush to be the favorite to win his party's nomination, although I'm not quite as confident in him as I was about Romney winning the nomination in 2012. The Republican Party is an even frothier, mouth-breathier beast than it was last time around, and it's just barely possible that Rand Paul might be able to lie and manipulate his way to the top.
In a hypothetical general election, Bush will have even more problems. For one thing, he's the brother of a man who's widely understood to be the worst modern American president. That kind of stink can't just be washed away by a billion-dollar advertising budget. Bush hasn't held office since 2007, and his record in Florida is kind of blandly Republican—cut taxes, fought abortion, pro-gun, proposed charter schools, battled against high-speed rail—with the exception of a better-than-average environmental record for a Republican governor. In the years since he was governor, Bush has been busy making a whole lot of money, mostly through the same avenues as Mitt Romney: offshore investments, creepy hedge fund deals. If income inequality will be a major issue in 2016, Bush is the wrong candidate to run, because he's profited off the deflation of the middle class. I can also attest from seeing him at the RNC in 2012 that he's not a very good speaker—he's blander than his father, with none of his brother's folksy Elvis patter to keep things interesting. He practically melts into the wallpaper when he's behind a podium. He's got a forgettable face.
But let's assume that all these hypotheticals align and Bush is the Republican nominee for president, and that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. Let's assume that campaign finance reform continues to be gutted between now and Election Day. We will have two candidates with eminently familiar names spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising every two weeks, trying to convince us simultaneously that their brand of nostalgia is the best. If this election really does turn out to be a marketing battle between the Clinton brand and the Bush brand, I could see Americans tuning out of the election process in droves. Nothing will make people feel sicker about participating in politics than the sense that they're pawns in a battle between two wealthy arms of American aristocracy. This matchup could bring the lowest turnout we've ever seen in a national election, and we all know that when turnout is down, Republicans win elections. I believe President Jeb Bush is absolutely a very real possibility.