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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 4/13/2014

COMMENTARY

The GOP’s big question for 2016: Will Jeb run?

BY DAVID SHRIBMAN
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE EXECUTIVE EDITOR
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The presidential nomination race is frozen. The big money and the gritty organizers won’t make 2016 election commitments until the putative front-runner makes a move, in or out of the campaign.

The deep freeze frustrates politicos and front-runners, though most Americans are happy not to talk about a fight for the White House just now.

It’s customary to apply that analysis to the Democratic contest, where former secretary of State Hillary Clinton is considered the pacesetter of the race, if not the overwhelming favorite.

But that critique applies as well to Republicans, where a bunch of rookie politicians are angling for advantage. The real contest won’t take form until former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida decides whether to mount a campaign. The result is an unusual if not unique overture to a modern presidential election, with both major parties awaiting the decision of a major candidate.

As possible GOP candidates such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky seek to establish their legitimacy, and while Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey struggles to recover from the scandal on the George Washington Bridge, Mr. Bush is positioned as something of a white knight. He is a an experienced campaigner amid near-amateurs, a Catholic fluent in Spanish for a party that increasingly relies on the white Catholic vote, but is dangerously unappealing for Latino voters.

Mr. Bush is in some ways a throwback. That’s a comforting thought if you deplore the tone and timbre of the current Republican Party, a threat if you think the party’s pattern of nominating mainstream candidates such as Robert Dole and Mitt Romney only ensures that Democrats prevail.

He is a supporter of two issues that have drawn skepticism from some conservatives: the Common Core curriculum initiative and an overhaul of immigration law.

Bush Bush
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He echoed his brother’s notion of compassionate conservatism when, in an interview with Fox News, he deplored harsh treatment of those who are in the United States illegally. “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony,” he said. “It’s an act of love and an act of commitment to your family.”

Can he win? He will not have an easy time in the GOP primaries, but the size of the field may work to his advantage. Representatives of the strain of muscular conservatism that has become so prominent in his party, plus some representatives of the religious right, may split the vote and allow someone to win the Iowa caucuses with as little as 26 percent.

If he runs in the general election against Mrs. Clinton, he will portray her as a standard-bearer for a third Clinton term — or, even less appealing, for a third Obama term. If Mrs. Clinton or some other Democrat runs against him, he or she will portray Mr. Bush as a standard-bearer for a third term of his brother.

Voters don’t want either of those things. Just as important, the two legacy candidates don’t either.

David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: dshribman@post-gazette.com



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