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01.08.11

Jeb Bush for President in 2016!

Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachman is flirting with a run in 2012, but the GOP may not get a real shot at the White House until four years later. Mark McKinnon on why, dynasty issues aside, Bush will be a clear favorite.

Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann is flirting with a run in 2012, but the GOP may not get a real shot at the White House until four years later. Mark McKinnon on why, dynasty issues aside, Bush will be a clear favorite.

As the 112th Congress settles into its first week of work, political fireworks are already going off that could have a big impact on the presidential elections of 2012 and 2016. Michele Bachmann and Jeb Bush showed some leg this week and got many in the GOP steaming up.

While the media fixates on a possible presidential run for Sarah Palin, another Mama Grizzly may join the fray. Tea Party doyenne and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann may be positioning herself for the 2012 contest. Rumors abound, with news of her recent appearance at a GOP fundraiser in Michigan and an upcoming meeting in her native Iowa this month, two key presidential primary states. “Nothing is off the table,” Bachmann’s chief of staff says. “The congresswoman is excited about her first trip to Iowa this year.”

Despite being targeted for defeat by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the outspoken Bachmann bested three challengers, winning her third term in November with 53 percent of the vote. She also benefited from an endorsement by none other than Sarah Palin. Bachmann was the top fundraiser of any congressional candidate, raising an astounding $13.4 million in 2009-10. For comparison, Pelosi raised $2.5 million, and new Speaker John Boehner, $9.7 million.

The founder of the Tea Party House Caucus, she is an influential voice for the party’s conservative base. In a peace offering from Boehner, Bachmann was offered a position on the House Intelligence Committee following her withdrawal from a potentially divisive race for Republican Conference chair, the No. 4 slot in the party leadership. A fiscal and social conservative, mother of five, and foster care provider for 23, she often causes sparks to fly with her fiery, passionate, and not always well-thought-out comments. Like Palin, she perplexes and repulses her detractors and delights her fervent admirers.

Palin versus Bachmann would be a lot of fun to watch. The media would have to be sedated. And the Tea Party would be torn. But give the ladies credit. They are politically astute enough to know they share the same base and can’t both run. The question is, who blinks?  

On the other hand, 2012 may not be the bonanza Republicans anticipate. At this point the GOP field has no clear leader. If the economy shows any signs of life in the next year and half, and President Obama’s favorable ratings bounce and hold over 50, it may not matter. With all the advantages of incumbency, it’s likely Obama will be re-elected. So, on to 2016, when the presidential contest will be wide open. And this time there will be a clear favorite: Jeb Bush. (The howling starts here.) 

Almost universally favored among Republicans in the all-important electoral state of Florida, he also has crossover appeal among Democrats and independents.

Despite the obvious legacy issues—his last name is a four-letter word to some—the Bush brother who actually grew up wanting to be president is a true policy wonk with proven executive, crisis management, and leadership abilities, and the former Florida governor’s favorability is still high. “He’s a serious conservative, with a seriously positive case for what he wants to do for America. He’s not just a ‘Party of No’ guy,” says best-selling author John Heilemann. And Jeb cracked the door open the other day. While insisting he isn’t looking to run for president in 2012, the second Bush son said he would never say never when asked about 2016.  

The first governor ever re-elected in Florida’s history, Jeb focused intensely on reform of education, the budget process, civil service, and health care. These are issues that need to be addressed on the national level. He appeals to the establishment and the Tea Party movement. He was an early backer of Marco Rubio, interestingly against the GOP establishment. And almost universally favored among Republicans in the all-important electoral state of Florida, he also has crossover appeal among Democrats and independents.

Jeb, really John Ellis Bush, is an innovative thinker and genial reformer. And he opens the GOP Big Tent wide. As an exchange student teaching in Mexico, where he met his future wife, Bush gained fluency in Spanish. His support among Hispanics is strong; he won the majority of the Florida Latino vote in 1998 and 2002. He has publicly disagreed with Arizona’s contested immigration law, and he now serves as co-chair of the new Hispanic Leadership Network, a Republican effort to attract Hispanic voter support.

“The values that drive the center-right movement are shared by Americans of all backgrounds, including members of the Hispanic community,” Bush wrote in an editorial prior to the inaugural conference for the Hispanic Leadership Network held this week in Miami. “A center-right agenda means keeping taxes low and easing the regulatory burden on small businesses to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and job growth. A center-right agenda means instituting real education reforms that reward outstanding teachers and empower parents with choices if their children are trapped in a failing school. In short, a center-right agenda provides opportunity for those willing to work hard.”

Despite the obvious imperative for GOP leaders to connect more with Hispanic voters for 2012, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) was the only  potential Republican presidential candidate to accept an invitation to speak at the conference. Perhaps proving Myra Adams’ assertion that Jeb remains “the most likely candidate to build a bridge to the nation’s largest minority group.” But we may have to wait until 2016.

While 41 was gentle, 43 tough, Jeb, or “45,” as he someday may be called, is smart. The question here: Will America see the man, or reject dynasty? And if not, there’s always “47”—George P. Bush.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.