This article is the seventh in a series called White House Wednesday, by the staff of The World and Everything in It, looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Earlier installments profiled Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Vice President Joe Biden, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Congressman Paul Ryan, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Rand Paul.
Two years ago, Jeb Bush was just another former governor with a last name the Republican party was ready to forget. Though he spoke at the 2012 Republican National Convention, another speaker and governor overshadowed him. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the Republican establishment’s frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination. Then Christie became mired in political quicksand, following the Fort Lee bridge scandal involving members of his staff. Polls suggest the Bush name is not the negative it was just two years ago. With that in mind, some of the party’s big power players are urging Jeb Bush to step forward.
Bush, of course, already knows his way around the White House, closely related as he is to two former presidents: His father and his brother. His grandfather Prescott Bush served 11 years in the US Senate.
“My grandfather and my father have been incredible role models for me and served our country honorably,” Bush has said.
Though he ended up in Florida, young Jeb—who goes by the initials of his given name, John Ellis Bush—spent most of his childhood in Texas. At age 17 he went to Mexico and taught English as part of a student-exchange program. While there, he met his future wife, Columba. They have 3 grown children: Noelle, John Ellis Jr., and George P. Bush, who is a candidate for Texas Land Commissioner.
His first political post was as chairman of the Dade County Republican Party. In 1987, he was appointed as Florida’s secretary of commerce. He resigned that role the following year to join his dad’s presidential campaign.
He first ran for governor of the Sunshine State in 1994, taking on incumbent Democrat Lawton Chiles. But he fell 60,000 votes short of victory on the very same night Texas elected his brother George W. Bush governor.
“I ended up learning that losing actually turns out to be pretty good,” Jeb Bush later told ABC News. “It makes you better. You learn and grow.”
In 1998, Bush defeated Democratic Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay by a 10-point margin to become the 43rd governor of Florida.
Just two years later, he found himself in the middle of a historic national firestorm: a presidential election too close to call. On Nov. 8, 2000, his brother deadlocked with Vice President Al Gore in Florida, Bush took the podium. He vowed any and all cases of voter fraud would be prosecuted, and he recused himself from the Elections Canvassing Commission, which certifies elections in the state, to avoid any conflicts of interest.George W. Bush, of course, was ultimately awarded Florida by a mere 537 votes and with it, the presidency.
The Bush family knows all too well how grueling a White House bid can be. That knowledge might have prompted this response from former first lady Barbara Bush last year when asked if she’d like to see her son Jeb run for president.
“He’s by far the best qualified man, but no. I really don’t. I think it’s a great country. There are a lot of great families. There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes,” she said.
If Jeb Bush were to run for president, against his mother’s wishes, his last name would give him gravitas, but also baggage.
“Jeb will poll relatively badly during the primary season, which is not to say that he couldn’t win, but it’s just to say that until he gets a formal and full introduction to the broader American electorate, people are going to key off his last name,” Weekly Standard columnist Jay Cost said.
He has made a signature issue of education as a champion of charter schools and school choice. Over the years, that position has made him a popular figure within the party. But more recently, his embrace of national common core standards has been more controversial. On immigration, Bush agrees U.S. borders must be secured. He also favors a path to legalization for illegal immigrants, but not a path to citizenship. And he was criticized for this comment about illegal immigrants: “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.”
Bush is poised and articulate—a credible candidate. Florida is the biggest swing state in the country, so he would have an edge there if he were to run. He also would have plenty of financial backing. A fluent Spanish speaker, Bush is focused on what the GOP needs to do to expand its demographic appeal. All of those strengths could weigh against the liabilities of his family dynasty if he were to run for president.
Listen to Nick Eicher and Kent Covington discuss Jeb Bush’s presidential prospects on The World and Everything in It: