He could be a contender.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Jeb Bush Shapes Republicans' 2016 Matchups

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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When it comes to products, sports or politics, matchups matter. There's a premium for quality, but whom you're selling to or competing against often affects outcomes.

That's a useful framework for assessing the 2016 Republican presidential contest at this early stage. If, as all signals suggest, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother and son of presidents, is about to get in, the race quickly intensifies.

To oversimplify, there are two distinct candidate types: the mainstream conservatives and the movement conservatives. There really are no moderates.

Establishment conservatives are the favorites of Wall Street, big business and traditional Republicans. Movement candidates are embraced by the Tea Party, social and cultural conservatives, and the populist right.

Jeb Bush is a conservative; he's also the quintessential establishment Republican. So is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who probably won't run if Bush is in. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman-to-be Paul Ryan will also stay out. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, however, should jump in; there won't be another chance. The same is true for Midwestern governors such as Wisconsin's Scott Walker, John Kasich of Ohio and Michigan's Rick Snyder.

On the movement side, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is in. And the more Senator Ted Cruz of Texas alienates official Washington, the more popular he is with the grass-roots right. Pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson has surprisingly impressive poll showings and fervent followers. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, once the darling of the social right, is contemplating a last run.

These mays and maybes matter.

"It is not just who rises to the occasion," says Fred Davis, a leading Republican media strategist. "It's what is in that mix."

That was evident in 2012. Romney controlled the center-right; the only competition was former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, whose candidacy never lived up to his credentials. The right-wing candidates divided votes, enabling Romney to score well in the initial Iowa caucuses; a final tabulation conducted a few weeks later showed that former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum actually won by 34 votes.

Polls by Bloomberg Politics this fall in New Hampshire and Iowa underscored this point. In both instances, in aggregate, mainstream candidates were almost even with movement conservatives; a winnowed field on either side would matter.

Out of the starting gates are Bush and Paul, who as Republican strategist David Winston notes is almost a wing of his own as the prime libertarian conservative. Both have strengths that might discourage entrants -- think Florida Senator Marco Rubio -- but also shortcomings that suggest they won't clear the field.

Money, the mother's milk of U.S. politics, will. On the establishment side, Bush and Christie tap some of the same resources, but the New Jersey governor probably has sufficient support from rich Garden State and Wall Street Republicans to run, too. Walker in Wisconsin summoned a national fundraising apparatus when Democrats sought to recall him two years ago. Money is a challenge for other center-right hopefuls.

On the movement side, the Paul network taps into lots of grass-roots resources. It's less clear elsewhere. For example, is there enough Texas money for both Governor Rick Perry and Cruz? Over the long haul, the only shot for Huckabee, a notoriously poor fundraiser, or Santorum, would be support from a rich sugar daddy.

All these guys -- no women yet -- are testing the waters with the understanding that a go means at least a yearlong grueling grind. There are incentives, though: The losers often get lucrative speaking and TV punditry contracts, or write books or produce videos.

Maybe one of the losers this time will be as fortunate as the Democratic also-rans of 2008: Former Senator Chris Dodd now runs the Motion Picture Association of America, Joe Biden is the vice president, and Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state, is the party's presumptive 2016 presidential nominee.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net