It’s fitting that Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul and generous donor to Republican causes (reportedly as much as $150 million in 2012), is hosting a dinner next week in Las Vegas for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Bush, after all, may or may not seek the presidency in 2016 – he says he’ll decide later this year. And the GOP field in which he’d take part? It’s a crapshoot, with no clear odds-on-favorite. Well, that and the fact that the betting lines keep moving – at a pace only a casino owner (and people fishing for something to write two years in advance) could love.
At the moment, it’s Bush’s odds on the uptick. Larry Sabato, the esteemed University of Virginia political scientist and crystal ball gazer, has the son-of-41/brother-of-43 at the front of the pack. Others see him as a Republican variation of Hillary Clinton – famous surname, potentially formidable, though unlike Hillary unable to clear the primary field.
Maybe most notable of all for Jeb Bush’s long-term prospects: he’s doing better in the all-important Barbara Bush primary – his mother softening her opposition to the thought of a third Bush male seeking America’s top political prize.
Here are four reasons to explain/justify the Bush buzz.
1) Republican Speed Dating. To the adage “Republicans fall in line, Democrats fall in love” when choosing a presidential nominee, 2016 offers little in the way of order for the GOP. There is no frontrunner – no one candidate with a financial or structural advantage to muscle his or her way to victory (this worked for Ronald Reagan in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain (to a lesser extent) in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012). Instead, the field is an exercise in speed dating – a presidential hopeful having their moment at the front of the line, then it’s on to the next prospective mate. Such was the case for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, following his re-election last November, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul earlier this year. Now, it’s Bush’s turn to be the media’s speed-date – until they find a new darling.
2) The Smart Money Wants a Smart Candidate. That axiom notwithstanding, there is a faction of Republicans – let’s call them the “ideas crowd” – that wants to a finance a candidate who’ll intellectually rejuvenate the party along the lines of the “Reagan revolution”. Bush, a champion of education reform, immigration reform and Medicaid reform, would be to their liking. Other Republicans who’d fit into this category: Christie (education and pension reform, tax relief) and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (federal budgeting, economics, poverty). Having governed the nation’s soon-to-be third most populous state also helps. Be it Reagan and Bush 43 (former governors of California and Texas), Bush 41 and Richard Nixon (vice presidencies), as well as Dwight Eisenhower (running a theatre of war), in modern times there’s a connection between winning Republican candidates and present or past executive experience.
3) Getting to 270. Let’s suppose the 2016 race begins where 2012’s ended – 332 electoral votes for the Democrats; 206 for the Republicans. How does the GOP raise its count to 270? It’s pretty simple: Republicans have to win some combination of the 9 swing states and 110 electoral votes that determined 2012’s outcome. Those states, listed in order of most electoral votes: Florida (29), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Iowa and Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4). Setting aside those nine states, 2016 begins with Democrats holding a 237-191 edge in “base” electoral votes. But with Bush at the top of the ticket, Florida (the last state to be called in 2012 and the closest margin) presumably goes red. That ups the GOP count to 235, adding in North Carolina, the only one of those nine swing states to go Republican in 2012. Toss in Ohio and the Bush-led ticket is up to 253 electoral votes, 17 shy of victory. The last six states, in least-to-largest 2012 margin of victory: Virginia (3.9%), Colorado (5.4%), New Hampshire (5.6%), Iowa (5.8%), Nevada (6.7%) and Wisconsin (6.8%). For what it’s worth, give Virginia and New Hampshire to the GOP, leave the rest to the Democrats, and it’s a 270-all tie.
4) Next on the Dating Circuit. Speed dates last only a few minutes. As 2016 frontrunners last only a few weeks, get used to more Republican names to emerge. A better benchmark would be the November election and two races in particular: the gubernatorial contests in Wisconsin and Ohio. In the former, it’s Scott Walker, the answer to the trivia question of the only governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election (Walker’s likely to soon add a massive tax cut to his resume, always a good start to a GOP presidential run). As for Ohio, John Kasich’s triangulating approach differs from Walker’s in that he’s deliberately kept wedge issues at more of an arm’s length. Collectively, should the two win, it spells trouble for Democrats in 2016 in that it gives Republicans a road map for winning a pair of crucial swing states – Ohio having voted Republican five of the six times that a Bush was on the Republicans’ national ticket; Wisconsin going Democratic in four of the same six presidential elections.
Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen