In South Carolina with Governor Nikki Haley.

Photographer: Richard Ellis/Getty Images

Will Jeb Be the Rudy of 2016?

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.
Read More.
a | A

Jeb Bush isn't nailing down endorsements from Republican opinion leaders. He has also failed to sign up many operatives who worked for his brother's presidential campaign.

And, as the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar pointed out today, voters don’t seem to share the opinion voiced by some elite Bush supporters that he’s more electable than others in the 2016 field.

Most polling at this point doesn’t predict anything, but it might affect what party actors decide, and Bush isn’t doing especially well in horse-race matchups. Yes, he’s leading or running second in national polls, but this is hardly enough to convince those unsure about him that they would be risking the wrath of their constituents by opposing the Bush dynasty.

Besides the direct evidence, there are indirect indicators. If Bush (or anyone else) was decisively pulling ahead, some marginal candidates would be dropping out. For that matter, Florida Senator Marco Rubio would probably have decided not to run. No sign of that.

Bush is going to be able to raise tons of money. That’s something, especially from donors tied to the party network. Yet plenty of candidates over the years, from John Connally 1980 to Rudolph Giuliani in 2008, have done well with donors but couldn’t translate that support into greater success.

Could Bush win? Absolutely. He’s conservative enough and shouldn’t run into trouble on important litmus-test issues. While I tend to talk down the importance of money, it is a valuable resource in nomination politics. I’ve had Bush (with Rubio and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker) in my top tier of likely winners, and I see no reason to change that. It’s easy to imagine a lot of Republicans deciding that Bush would be more reliable as president than some of the other possibilities.

Most likely, the party will decide well before the Iowa caucuses whether it’s for Bush or not. But Kraushaar is correct. If party actors remain split or uncommitted and prefer to wait for tests of electoral strength, it’s easy to imagine Bush finishing fifth or lower in Iowa, failing to rally in New Hampshire, and then finding himself almost a non-factor in South Carolina. One thing's for sure: Waiting for the Florida primary to come around isn't going to be a successful nomination strategy.

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:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net