Curb your enthusiasm.

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Jeb Jumps In

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Jeb Bush, presidential candidate.

Actually, the son and brother of presidents has been running for a while, but he made it official today by saying he’s “decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.”

How strong a candidate is he? I guess we’ll find out. What we can say is that if he were Jeb Smith, a former two-term governor of Florida who has been out of politics since leaving office in 2007, and who has unorthodox positions in more than one policy area, he would be viewed as a longshot.

But something about the Bush family just makes a certain breed of Republicans go all weak at the knees, and has ever since Jeb’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a senator and a possible vice-president. That means Jeb will have easy access to the resources (money, endorsements, expertise, and more) that matter in presidential nomination politics. Republicans haven’t had to live with extreme uncertainty about their nominee for a long time; and some may be very tempted to just settle for the next Bush in line. And by all accounts, Jeb is simply a better politician than either his brother or his father (or, for that matter, his grandfather).

On the other hand, this field looks a lot more like the impressive 1980 candidate group in which George H.W. Bush finished as the far-back runner-up than it does the uninspiring 2000 array that George W. Bush trounced. What’s more, W. checked off all the conservative boxes; Jeb doesn’t. His positions on education (supporting Common Core) and immigration reform (he’s for it) may not disqualify him from the nomination, but both will draw serious opposition, and there are several potential candidates who could exploit that.

Tactically, Bush’s announcement seems smart. As a former non-candidate, he may have needed something a bit more official to get donors and others to believe he would be running in 2016. And his early move may convince others to drop out; it would seem to put pressure on Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Chris Christie, not to mention the non-starter of a third Mitt Romney campaign. So the first thing to watch will be whether we get further winnowing. After that, it's all about whether the spell the Bush family has cast over Republicans continues to work in 2016. After all, Jeb's kid George P. probably won't be ready for the presidency until at least 2020. 

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