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Jan 11 2015

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Early Line on the GOP in 2016

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Jeb Bush will be the certain GOP nominee in 2016, if four conditions are met.

1) He actually decides to run.

2) There are no brewing personal or business bombshells in his background that have not been considered as part of #1.

3)  That he is better on the stump and in public than say, Hillary Clinton.

4) That Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, decides against a run.

Despite a solid conservative record, two-terms of executive experience successfully running the fourth largest state – a demographically diverse swing state – a ready-on-day-#1 Bush candidacy elicits outright hostility in the grassroots and some quiet groans inside the Beltway as well.

We’ll get to those issues, and relative merits of a Bush nomination (and there are many) down the road.  This piece is about simple political mechanics and how that reality favors Bush in a wide-open primary field.

To win the GOP nomination in 2016, the successful candidate will need:

1) To raise $100 million, if not more, to win the nomination, and have the capability to raise close to $1 billion for the general election.

2) To unite fiscal/social conservatives and libertarians, and energize the Party for the general election.

Only three names in American politics have the proven ability to raise the kind of money needed to compete in the 2016 election cycle – Obama, Clinton and Bush. Of the three, the Bush name may be the most lucrative, beginning in 1979, stretching from coast-to-coast in every financial demographic and touching three generations of Republican operatives and faithful. It is one of the most coveted Rolodexes in American politics.

And it is not simply that this network exists. It is the fact that the “Big Feet” on this list are generally the biggest donors to the Party whether a Bush is running or not, and many of these people  have given Jeb Bush the “right of first refusal,” essentially committing to him until he affirmatively steps away from the race.

Fundraising is the oxygen of a presidential campaign, and Bush’s first, tentative step into the race has already complicated the plans of other would-be contenders who would compete from the pragmatic, center-right of the Party. Chris Christie, John Kasich Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio, are all dependent on the same donor pool where Bush is dominant. Indeed, Bush’s foray into the race potentially wrecks months of methodical donor cultivation by other would-be presidential aspirants in this space.

Some will survive, others will not.

Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, Bush’s pending run is a mortal blow to a  Rubio candidacy. Same state, same donors, same rationale.  And in each category, Bush is the safer, more experienced bet for the money men.

Beyond fundraising,  the potentially large field of candidates also plays to Bush’s immediate advantage by “balkanizing” opposition to his candidacy.

Senator Rand Paul will definitely run. Paul is the embodiment  of the strong and growing strain of libertarianism in the GOP. A force at remains at odds with majority opinion in the GOP on foreign policy, national security and social issues, but which has a growing  popularity among the youngest voters.

Senator Ted Cruz and former governor Rick Perry will be fishing for consolidated Tea Party support.

On the other side of the spectrum, among the most committed social conservatives, Senator Rick Santorum will be battling against the more certain candidacy of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who is a rock star among evangelical Christians, and will be a consequential force in the nomination process if he jumps in.

A clash between Paul and Huckabee for hearts and minds is all but certain, as each uses the other as a foil for their agenda and motivating followers. Cruz and Perry will join the fray, eager to differentiate their positions. The center-right governors, Christie and Kasich would play off these skirmishes to position themselves as the better alternative to Bush.

This is all good news for Bush as no single candidate lined up against him has the support to beat him. And in the struggle to get ahead, the other would-be nominees will do more damage to each other than to Bush.

The logic of a Bush nomination becomes more obvious with the passage of the primary calendar. But with one, serious exception.

Scott Walker.

Walker is the authentic conservative warrior.

Winning office in 2010, Walker followed through on his conservative agenda and so infuriated  powerful liberal interest groups (public employee unions) that the Governor had was forced to face a recall election. It was a brutal even vicious campaign, where Walker prevailed convincingly against a veritable tsunami of progressive cash. Walker again faced the voters in 2014, and despite another campaign of dirty tricks waged against him, won handily on a solid record of accomplishment.

Winning three state-wide elections in four years in deep blue Wisconsin is no small accomplishment. Winning two of those three elections not simply against local and state interests, but against labor and progressive groups that effectively nationalized the election, is another order of success altogether.  In between, Walker managed to steer the state to growth and a budget surplus (from a budget deficit he inherited), and he was able to provide Wisconsinites with tax relief.

It is an enviable record, both politically and legislatively.

While Bush, Huckabee and Santorum were out of politics making money, Walker was in the  fight of his political life on behalf of conservative principles. While Rubio and Cruz were busy pontificating and shutting down Congress, Walker was implementing conservative policies on a state-wide basis, providing tangible results to citizens.

No Republican considering a run in 2016 has the political combat experience that Walker does. Excellent preparation for the certain onslaught by Democrats in 2016. And not incidentally, in those three runs for office, Walker has built up a Rolodex of donors nationwide that would more than allow him to compete for the nomination.

The biggest threat to a Bush nomination is consolidation of support around a single alternative.  Not the last man standing, after the delegate count has been essentially put away, but a candidate the emerges early, after necessary winnowing, that is credible and can unite the threads of the Party.

Walker – and perhaps long shot candidate, Indiana governor Mike Pence – are the only ones who can do that as genuine conservatives.

For now, it’s Jeb Bush’s to lose.

Stay tuned.

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PS:  word has now surfaced that all denials to the contrary, Mitt Romney is now seriously considering a third run for the White House. Romney and Bush would both come to the race with pedigree, loyalists and donors.

FACT: The last Republican to make a third for the White House, having failed to secure the nomination the first time, and having lost to the incumbent as nominee in the second, was Thomas E. Dewey.

We all know what happened in 1948.

Enough said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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