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Should Jeb Bush step aside for Marco Rubio?


Early last year, Jeb Bush had a small gathering at the Biltmore in Coral Gables for a very private, serious chat about running for president in 2016. One of his top advisers, Mike Murphy, was a tad surprised to run into someone he knew as he waited for cab to leave go to the airport.

The meeting was described as the first of its kind. An exploratory moment. Bush was "80 percent" against running. After nine months of reflection, and very careful planning for a major campaign rollout, Bush was 100 percent in.

But should Bush stay in - or should he step aside for Marco Rubio?

Bush has not been in a Republican primary since 1994. Bush was 41. He ran against three candidates - all of whom had years in elected office. Bush had not spent a day as an elected official.

In the general election he ran against the late Democrat Lawton Chiles, who was 64. Bush lost. Four years later the Bush machine cleared the Republican decks for him. The then-45 year old Bush defeated Democrat Buddy MacKay who was 65.

In each of those races, one of Bush's themes was that it was time for a new generation. It was time for those 60-something guys to take their stale ideas into retirement. Bush would be fresh, new, invigorating, and ready to take Florida into a new direction.

Bush is 62. Most of his campaign has been a rehash of the same ideas he was talking about in 1994. So far, the Bush of that era seems to be missing in this campaign. In 1994, there was energy. In 2015, there is a sense of entitlement.

In 1994, Republicans were excited about Bush's potential. Even though he lost, they never lost faith. His victory in 1998, stirred the GOP. It would begin the next two decades of GOP dominance in Tallahassee.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with Bush's ideas, he was always suited up, ready to play. Politics for him was a full-contact sport but his mission was to remake Florida.

It has been 13 years since Bush last was on a ballot. It has been 21 years since he last had a serious opponent.

There is a sense of outrage among Bush lovers at the very idea that Rubio would dare to challenge Bush for the presidential nomination. "The Bush people are freaking out," said one former Bush supporter who now backs Rubio but still fears Bushites enough to worry about being named. 

Describing a 30-minute, private conversation last week with Rubio, this Republican said, "Marco Rubio is determined. There was no fear or hesitation in his voice."

One thing Florida Republicans have learned about Jeb Bush and his followers is that you are either with him or against him. If you are against him, they are done with you.

Very done.

With the stakes this high, Floridians supporting Rubio will forever be banished from Bush world. 

Rubio at 43, is very much the Jeb Bush of the 1990s.  Rubio represents something new for the GOP - for better or worse. And the very fact that he is willing to take on Bush in Florida may say far more about Bush than it does Rubio. JEB BUSH _

Could it be that Rubio believes Bush's Florida support - untested since 2002 - is at best fragile. That if Rubio does well in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, he has a reasonable shot at winning Florida?

Does Rubio's willingness to take on Bush in Florida send signals to other 2016 candidates that they may have less to fear from Bush than they may have believed?

Is Rubio the GOP's future? Is Bush just in the way?

This is going to be ugly. The Bush team will soon begin ripping Rubio apart. He is now the enemy.

And nothing would be more devastating to Bush than to lose the nomination. He cannot be the Bush who failed. Unlike his father there will be no second chance. This is it for Jeb.

Should he step aside for Rubio?

Perhaps. But Bush simply can't do it now even if he wanted to.



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