Jeb Bush Is Making 20 GOP Presidential Hopefuls Scramble
Policy + Politics

Jeb Bush Is Making 20 GOP Presidential Hopefuls Scramble

REUTERS/Mike Segar

The recent entry of former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 GOP presidential sweepstakes has rocked the political world and likely reordered the political calendar for many other presidential aspirants who are contemplating making a bid.

“His unexpected, all-but-in announcement on Dec. 16 stunned his competitors and the political community,” said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. “Bush didn’t just accelerate the entire process, including forthcoming announcements by rivals, but he also gained a leg up in conventional wisdom’s positioning.”

Related: Jeb Bush PAC Bemoans America’s ‘Lost Decade’

The scion of one of the most famous political families in history is no shoe-in for the nomination. His moderate views in support of comprehensive immigration reform and the Common Core of educational standards are anathema to many rock solid conservatives; currently more than three-fourths of Republicans favor someone other than Bush for the next president, according to surveys.


Just as it was in the run-up to the 2012 presidential campaign, the 2016 GOP field is brimming with more than two dozen potential candidates. But the surprise early entry by former governors Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee could have a profound impact on the course of the race, and possibly lead to a thinning of the ranks sooner than one might otherwise expect.

Yet his family name, solid standing with the Republican establishment and prowess as a fundraiser have thrust him to the top of the heap in the early going, with still at least 13 months to go before the official start of the presidential campaign with the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. By declaring his intent to seek the nomination and by cutting ties with his many business interests, Bush is forcing the hands of nearly two dozen other prominent Republicans to make an early decision on whether to hop into the race or pull back.

Adding to the drama is former Arkansas governor and TV personality Mike Huckabee’s decision to sever his relationship with Fox News Channel and launch a presidential exploratory campaign of his own, which could trigger a bruising intra-party battle for support of social conservatives and the religious right. Huckabee, a Baptist preacher, came out of the blue to win the Iowa caucuses in 2008 thanks to his solid support among evangelicals.

This time around, there is far more competition for the support of social conservatives, and Huckabee  would have to duke it out with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), conservative physician Ben Carson, and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) for that vital voting bloc. As Sabato noted on Thursday in his latest  “Crystal Ball” assessment of the Republican presidential field, the Club for Growth and other anti-tax and spending groups will likely mobilize against Huckabee, asserting that he had a “liberal” record on the issues when he was  governor.

Related: Huckabee Is Latest to Prep for a 2016 Presidential Run   

The low-key Bush, 61, hasn’t run an election campaign in more than a decade while the folksy, articulate Huckabee, 59, is politically rusty as well.

With their likely entries into the race, the 2016 Republican primaries “are shaping up as more complex than formulaic clashes between a center-right, establishment candidate and a handful of hardline challengers,” according to Jonathan Martin of The New York Times. “There are also likely to be fault lines of both age and political sensibilities.”

For now, at least, the Republican field is brimming with possible contenders – 21 in all, according to Sabato’s analysis. It is so big,  in fact,  that Sabato has divided these Republicans into seven tiers of contenders – with Bush standing alone in the top tier, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin in the second tier.

Here is Sabato’s first “Crystal Ball” GOP presidential rankings of the New Year:

First Tier: The Nominal Frontrunner
CandidateKey Primary AdvantagesKey Primary Disadvantages
Jeb Bush
Ex-Governor, FL
•Strong gubernatorial resume
•Potential Hispanic appeal
•Early moves toward running might dissuade other establishment candidates from entering race
•National Bush money and organization
•Wrong last name (Bush dynasty)
•Offshore private equity funds could be political headache
•Party has moved to the right
Second Tier: The Other Big Boys
Rand Paul
Senator, KY
•Working hard, reaching out to diverse audience
•Most successful and prominent early campaign
•Strong support from libertarian and Tea Party wings
•National ID and fundraising network; benefits from father’s previous efforts
•Too dovish/eclectic for GOP tastes? Party leaders likely to prefer someone else
•Association with out-of-mainstream father
•Would be unconventional nomination winner
Scott Walker
Governor, WI
•Heroic conservative credentials
•Checks boxes for many wings of party
•If GOP doesn’t go South, it could go Midwest
•Too bland? Next Pawlenty?
•Do lingering scandals hurt him?
•Not a polished speaker
•Does lack of college degree matter?
Chris Christie Governor, NJ •Dynamic speaker
•The more Democrats and media criticize him, the more acceptable he becomes to GOP base
•Establishment favorite
•Bridge scandal still playing out
•Bullying and out-of-control-staff questions
•Not conservative enough for base
Roots for the Dallas Cowboys
Third Tier: The Outsiders
Ted Cruz
Senator, TX
•Dynamic speaker and politician
•Diversity + conservatism
•Anti-establishment nature plays well with base
•Too extreme?
•Disliked on both sides of the Senate aisle
•Strong Tea Party support ensures establishment resistance to candidacy
Mike Huckabee
Ex-Governor, AR
•Already vetted
•Blue collar appeal
•Strong support from social conservatives
•Southerner in Southern-based party
•Disliked by establishment for economic populism, social views — party leaders don’t think he’s electable
•Small fundraising base
•Social conservatives have many other options
Ben Carson
Neurosurgeon and activist
•Adored by Tea Party grassroots
•Diversity + conservatism
•Good on TV
•No political experience whatsoever
•Little chance of establishment backing and funding
Fourth Tier: Establishment Alternatives
Mitt Romney
Ex-Governor, MA;
’12 GOP presidential nominee
•The ultimate fallback candidate: If party’s falling apart, it’s Mitt to the rescue
•Extremely well-vetted
•Been around the track so often he’s muddy
•Poor campaign in ’12 — same lack of enthusiasm from base
•Bush-Christie runs would probably crowd him out
Marco Rubio
Senator, FL
•Dynamic speaker and politician
•Diversity + conservatism
•Short time in Senate, which Obama proved could be a plus
•Did his national star peak too soon?
•Went left on immigration, hurt him with base
•Bush run could push him out
John Kasich
Governor, OH
•Long conservative record
•If GOP doesn’t go South, it could go Midwest
•Could be fallback for GOP establishment forces
•Supported Medicaid expansion
•Makes verbal miscues, lots of video from time as Fox host
•Nobody’s first (or even second) choice
Rick Snyder
Governor, MI
•Right to Work in major labor state
•If GOP doesn’t go South, it could go Midwest

•Washington outsider
•Supported Medicaid expansion
•Activists have more exciting options
•Washington outsider (not high on establishment lists)
Fifth Tier: The Remainders
Bobby Jindal
Governor, LA
•Diversity + conservatism
•Southerner in Southern-based party
•Deep and wide experience
•Knows how to toss red meat to base
•Better on paper than on stump
•Controversial tenure in Louisiana
•His star has been brighter in the past; hasn’t yet lived up to national potential
Rick Perry
Governor, TX
•Showing clear improvement as a candidate — “second chance” mentality
•Running vigorously and has strong campaign team
•Texas fundraising
•Indictment? Could rally right if vindicated
•Yesterday’s Texan? Has Ted Cruz eclipsed him?
•“Oops,” we forgot the rest; hard to make a second first impression
Rick Santorum
Ex-Senator, PA
•Strong support from social conservatives
•2nd place finisher in ’12 — next in line?
•Been around primary track
•Harder to stand out in much stronger ‘16 field
•Lost last Senate race by 17%
•Chip-on-shoulder attitude
•Social conservatives have flashier options
Sixth Tier: The Wild Cards
Mike Pence
Governor, IN
•Extensive governing experience
•Excites conservatives, particularly social conservatives
•If GOP doesn’t go South, it could go Midwest
•Low name ID nationally
•Would have to give up governorship to run
Carly Fiorina
Former business executive
•The only woman in the field
•Very wealthy, could self-fund
•Might be able to convince a few people she could compete in blue states
•Lost only race (2010 Senate) badly
•Probably too moderate
•Largely unknown, no base of support
Lindsey Graham
Senator, SC
•Prominent Obama critic
•Generally liked by party leaders/establishment
•Media savvy
•Vehemently disliked by grassroots
•Immigration reform efforts hurt him with conservatives
•Would be crowded out by other establishment candidates
John Bolton
Ex-Ambassador to the United Nations
•Foreign policy hardliner and expertise
•Media savvy
•Relatively unknown
•No electoral experience, tough to see him putting together campaign infrastructure
•More gadfly than candidate
Seventh Tier: Newt Gingrich Society —
“Want to buy a book?”
Peter King
Representative, NY
•Foreign policy hardliner and expertise
•Media savvy
•Probably not conservative enough
•Small base of support (candidates from House rarely win)
•“Pete Who?”
George Pataki
Ex-Governor, NY
•Few enemies because no one remembers him
•Potential Wall Street fundraising base
•Very long elective experience
•Time has passed him by: “George Who?”
•Zero grassroots excitement
Bob Ehrlich
Ex-Governor, MD
— e-mail us if you can think of one
•Lost twice to…Martin O’Malley
•Time has passed him by: “Bob Who?”
•No grassroots support

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times