Is Bush Really That Strong?

Regardless of the political implications of a Jeb Bush candidacy for President in 2016, there are other serious considerations at play.  From the political perspective, Bush is viewed within the GOP as perhaps too much of a moderate.  That is predicated upon his stances regarding Common Core and on immigration.  Further, he has been highly critical of other Republicans and partisanship in Congress.  His comments that Ronald Reagan would feel displaced in today’s GOP did not play well with many.  And some analysis puts Bush to the right of some of his potential 2016 rivals when it comes to policy stances or his performance as the Governor of Florida.

But, before anyone gives Bush a second look or second chance there are other considerations.  Currently, Bush is keeping a low profile and avoiding the public limelight.  He did not attend the Iowa Freedom Summit, nor did he attend the Koch brother confab.  Instead, he is working diligently behind the scenes lining up political support, potential endorsements, and (most importantly) money.  It is expected that to win the Republican nomination and presidency it will take about $1 billion.  His strategy of avoiding Iowa makes some sense.  By lining up potential donors early and building up a war chest, he aims to defeat a more conservative candidate in the delegate-rich blue states.

This is classic Bush strategy and one that his brother and father used previously.  No one doubts that the Bush family has built up an impressive fundraising apparatus dating back 50 years or so.  The Bush “pioneer and ranger” program is a fundraising pyramid scheme that borders on the genius.  However, this entire apparatus represents “old money” that has largely been out of action since 2004, George W.’s last campaign.  It is now ten years later and it may take a lot to get that apparatus up and running again.  Make no mistake- there will likely be hits along the way, but the question is how many misses there will be.

In fact, there may be some donation fatigue among the many donors.  Many of the donors Bush has reached out to recently expended a lot of money endorsing candidates in the 2014 midterm elections in an effort to gain GOP control of the Senate.  The ink was barely dry on the results when Bush came knocking at the door.  Further, many have dedicated limited funds towards Republican ground game efforts or developing data banks- an area where the GOP lags behind the Democrats of late.  In short, funds are limited.

Also, there are viable alternatives to Jeb Bush out there if the GOP eventually opts to go the so-called establishment route.  The names most mentioned are Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and even [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ].  If any one of these actually enters the fray, it will be an intense battle for available funds without even considering the more conservative possibilities.  Besides the Bush network, he has also been reaching out to the former Romney donors from 2012 (fundraising was one thing Romney did well in 2012).

The following examples are instructive of the problems Bush (or anyone else) will encounter when reaching out to these donors.  In 2012, Wayne Berman brought in over $500,000 for Romney, but is not committed at this point and actually favors Rubio.  Heavyweights Randy Levine and Harlan Crow have listened to Bush without giving up a dime and are waiting to see who else enters the battle.  Robert Grand, who raised over $1 million for Romney, leans to Mike Pence.  Annie Pressley- small potatoes by most estimates ($53,000 for Romney in 2012)- has mentioned Carly Fiorina as a possibility besides Romney and Bush.  Van Hipp is keeping an eye on John Kasich, Gaylord Hughey would likely financially help a Rick Perry or [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] candidacy while mega-donors Ray Washburne and Kenneth Langone lean towards Chris Christie.  Just to illustrate how interesting the dilemma for Bush is, another big donor- David Wilkins ($87,000 for Romney in 2012)- actually leans towards [mc_name name=’Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000359′ ] of all people.

Bush has set an almost unrealistic fundraising goal of $100 million in the first three months of 2015.  We would have to wait until mid-April to see if he even nears that goal.  And he is certainly trying.  He has recently hosted meetings in Washington and Boston besides a fundraising swing through California.  By the way, one was hosted by former Senator John Danforth who has been critical of the GOP and evangelicals in particular for moving the party too far to the right.  On February 4th he is scheduled to address potential donors in Detroit, Michigan- a very important move for anyone seriously considering a presidential run.

The ultimate problem for Bush may be twofold: the last name and the wild cards in this entire process- [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] and Scott Walker.  Paul sort of defies political pigeon-holing.  There is no doubt that his father scared the hell out of the Republican establishment on several policy positions, notably foreign policy.  Granted, the younger Paul is more or less libertarian, a waning force in the GOP.  However, there are several libertarian views that dovetail with Tea Party ideals.  Being the less scary Paul who can build a bridge between the establishment factions and the Tea Party factions may be enticing to some donors who would really like a winner come 2016.  Likewise, it is almost universally accepted that Scott Walker fits the bill as a bridge builder between the two schools of thought.  Every sign indicates that both will eventually become candidates.

This writer has no doubt that Bush will do well in the money wars.  But he, like all candidates, enters this battle with strengths, weaknesses and most importantly ideological differences that need to be explained.  The battle has just begun.  What a great time to have an interest in politics.