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The folly of trying to read Jeb Bush tea leaves

CNN, AP, Reuters and others are breathlessly reporting that Jeb Bush is traveling the country making campaign appearances for various Republican candidates. This they say, is a clear sign that Bush may run for president in 2016.

 As tweeted on @crowleyreport – Yes he is. Always has. Not a sign of anything.

 There is an ongoing storyline that suggests if Bush ignores the advice of his mother and decides to run for president he will immediately jump to the top of the heap. It has become what we now quaintly call “conventional wisdom.”

Unfortunately, history suggests that conventional wisdom is often wrong.

Recently an interviewer asked Crowley Political Report whether Bush will run.


Is Bush thinking about it?


Will he decide to run?


 One could argue that Bush has already said: No.

Bush says he will make a final decision later this year. He adds two considerations: “whether I can do it with joy in my heart and whether it’s going to be right for my family.”

Joy in my heart? Really?

Bush has been directly involved in five presidential campaigns – three for his dad, and two for his big brother.  While folks like to talk about the powerful Bush family political machine, it is worth noting that dad lost two out of three elections, and big brother won the first by a squeak while handily winning his reelection.

 Many seem to forget that even Jeb does not have a perfect electoral record. He lost his race for governor in 1994 against incumbent Democrat Lawton Chiles. He won in 1998 against the poorly run campaign of Buddy MacKay. And in 2002, there was a point where the Bush team worried that they could lose to the late Bill McBride, a Tampa lawyer who had never run for political office before.

This is a case you can make about many winning candidates. Often the reason they win is because the opponent is a lousy or flawed candidate. That fact is usually lost in campaign war stories. One should also remember that in the 2010 Texas governor’s race, the Bush machine backed the campaign of Senator Kay ­Bailey Hutchison against Rick Perry and lost.

None of this means that if Bush decided to run he would not be a formidable candidate. But even he knows it will not be as easy for him as his media and political acolytes suggest.

Frankly, “joy in my heart” is more likely Bush’s way of signaling that he will continue to be polite to the folks encouraging him to run but in his heart he does not want to run.

Now let’s consider the statement “right for my family.”

Several things are at play here. It is no secret that as Florida’s First Lady, Columba Bush was not having fun. She did not enjoy the attention, living in Tallahassee, or the enormous amount of time Jeb had to spend on the job.

Her time in Tallahassee was further complicated by the arrest of their daughter, Noelle, on drug charges.  Their daughter continued to struggle for years. The family rarely speaks publicly about Noelle. In most stories, you can find sons George P. (who is running for Texas Land Commissioner) and Jeb Jr., but not a word about Noelle.

That would end the moment her father becomes a candidate for president.

Jeb also would not want to do anything to interfere with the political ambitions of his sons. George P. is likely to win his race in Texas and his future in that state looks very promising.  His younger brother, Jeb Jr., is becoming increasingly involved in Florida politics.

One of the things that make elections fascinating to watch is the unexpected. There are always surprises during an election. Could Jeb Bush be the 2016 surprise? Sure. Will he be? No. 

Jeb is more likely to listen to his mom.



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