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How Jeb Bush Did In His 2016 Tryout

Mar 11, 2013

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Levin is the 6th senator (and the 4th Democrat) retiring in 2014. Lodge '64

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Contrary to what you read, everything politicians say and do don't necessarily always have to be only about 2016. Sometimes, really and truly, presidential calculations are not part of the conversation.

But regarding the coverage of Jeb Bush in the past week, it's hard to think anything else. Bush, of course, is the son and brother of former presidents. He has been urged to run for president since 2008, and the drumbeat for 2016 is getting louder ... especially since he helped it along by saying he is not ruling it out. With a Republican Party still trying to find its way after a second consecutive presidential defeat — and having lost the popular vote five of the last six times — what Bush says matters. Of course, whatever utterances he makes are always described as being part of White House strategic planning. Sometimes such conclusions are silly. This time they may make sense.

The former two-term governor of Florida has not run for office since 2002, and has up to now refused to get caught up in public presidential speculation. Widely acknowledged as a power behind the scenes, he is seen as politically savvy and astute. It's long been thought that had he won his 1994 gubernatorial campaign against Lawton Chiles in Florida, it would have been Jeb — not brother George W. — whom the GOP turned to in 2000. What he says carries great weight, and when he criticized his party last year for its approach to overhauling the nation's immigration laws, people sat up and paid attention. You're not going to win over the hearts of Latino voters, Bush said over and over, by talking about self-deportation and blocking paths to citizenship for those who are here illegally.

But in his new book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution (co-authored with Clint Bolick), Bush is no longer focusing on a path to citizenship. Let's talk instead about residency rights. "A grant of citizenship," Bush now says, "is an undeserving reward for conduct we cannot afford to encourage." Pay a fee, he says of those 11 million people here illegally. Pay back taxes. Do community service. Learn English. But the end would be residency, not citizenship. For many, however, the headline was about 2016.

There has been some confusion about what Bush meant and whether he was retreating from his previous statements. But that was drowned out by White House speculation.

Most took the tone of the Washington Post's Peter Wallsten and David Nakamura, who write that the book "puts him more in line with his party's base — the kind of thing a potential presidential contender would be mindful of."

Personally, I think Politico's Alexander Burns has it right when he wrote that this "may have less to do with electoral maneuvering than with Bush's disdain for what he views as the strictures of political debate." But if it began with the theory that Bush was dipping his toe into the 2016 waters, it ended up with a consensus that he stubbed that toe.

Under the header, "Jeb Bush's Poorly Times Flip-Flop," National Journal's Beth Reinhard said Bush is "denting his own reputation as a bold policymaker," all of which "comes down to a colossal political miscalculation":

"Bush's revamped position on citizenship looks like the maneuvering of a potential presidential candidate who wants to outflank [Marco] Rubio and appease the conservative, anti-amnesty contingent that dominates GOP primaries."

And if he wasn't "flip-flopping," then he was "backpedaling." And 2016 wasn't far from the calculation, according to the New York Times' Michael Shear:

"Mr. Bush, who for years was seen as one of the few Republicans who might appeal to Hispanic voters in a presidential campaign, now finds his position overtaken by a party desperate to ingratiate itself with a growing minority. As Mr. Rubio has shown, Mr. Bush is no longer the only Florida politician with a moderate position on immigration, a national profile and presidential ambitions."

And what about a presidential run?

"In most public appearances since leaving the governor's mansion in 2007, Mr. Bush said emphatically that he was not interested in following the family trail to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He declined to run in 2008 and stayed out again in 2012.

But now his language has softened.

'I'm not saying yes, I'm just not saying no,' Mr. Bush said on MSNBC. 'I've accomplished some things in my life that allow me now to — to have that kind of discretion, to be able to think about it.'

For some Republicans, Mr. Bush would be the prohibitive favorite if he chose to run for president in four years. ...

'We're going to face a very formidable opponent on the other side if it's Secretary Clinton,' said John Weaver, a Republican consultant who supports moderate candidates. 'We have to put our 'A team' out there, and that begins with Jeb Bush.'"

'Fourteen minus Levin. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), in office since 1979, said Thursday he will not seek a seventh term next year. Levin, who is 78 and a leading liberal in the Senate, chairs the Armed Services Committee. The longest-serving senator in Michigan history, he has breezed to re-election in his last four campaigns, and in his last one, in 2008, he won a career-high 63 percent of the vote.

Levin is the sixth senator to opt out of re-election for 2014, joining fellow Democrats Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), and Republicans Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Mike Johanns (Neb.).

Most observers see three-term Rep. Gary Peters as the likeliest Democrat to get into the race, although he had long been thought to be eying a gubernatorial bid. He's run statewide before, narrowly losing a race for attorney general in 2002, and he has a large campaign war chest. "I'm going to seriously consider it," he said after Levin's announcement. Kathleen Gray and Paul Egan of the Detroit Free Press list former Govs. Jennifer Granholm and Jim Blanchard and ex-Rep. Mark Schauer as other potential Dem candidates. As for Levin's brother, Rep. Sandy Levin? At 81, he's still planning on running for re-election to the House. And as for Granholm, the Daily Kos notes that she "left office pretty unpopular, and she's also been living in California for a few years." DK adds state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, 2010 gov. nominee Virg Bernero and 2010 Sec/State nominee Jocelyn Benson as other Democratic possibilities.

As for the Republicans — who last won a Michigan Senate race in 1994 with Spencer Abraham — the most mentioned possible is state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who gave up his congressional seat back in 1990 in a losing Senate bid against Levin. But he said that he's "got plans to keep working" as AG for six more years. Also mentioned are Reps. Justin Amash (a Tea Party favorite), Mike Rogers, Dave Camp and Fred Upton; and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

One GOP name that's been floated as well is Scott Romney. The 71-year old older brother of Mitt is thought to be interested. He sought the Republican nomination for AG in 1998.

Meanwhile, Comedy Central wants to know who will succeed Levin as America's Most Rumpled Senator.

Coming soon. Just over a week to go before the March 19 Republican primary in South Carolina's 1st CD, the seat Rep. Tim Scott (R) vacated when he went to the Senate. As has been the case from the outset, former Gov. Mark Sanford, who once held this House seat but who is best remembered for having disappeared to Argentina for a spell in 2009, is getting all the ink and is probably the frontrunner. The talk these past few days is over a Sanford profile piece in New York magazine, which states Sanford asked his ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, to run his campaign. Jenny Sanford had been the brains for all of her husband's campaigns, dating back to his first congressional bid in 1994 and through his two gov. runs in 2002 and 2006. But considering how she was humiliated and embarrassed over the exposure of his affair with "soul mate" Maria Belen Chapur, the request has attracted a lot of notice. The real question is which of his 15 GOP rivals will face Sanford in the April 2 runoff. Teddy Turner, the son of the media mogul who is miles away from his father ideologically, is perhaps the most famous opponent. But watch out for state Sen. Larry Grooms; he is said to be equally conservative as Sanford (without the baggage) and has picked up the endorsements of GOP Reps. Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney. The likely Democratic candidate is Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the director of business development for an environmental research institute at Clemson and sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg reminds us that the 1998 Dem candidate for the seat (against then-GOP incumbent Henry Brown Jr.) lost by only four points. He writes that it's "not impossible" Colbert Busch could win, but she'll need a "perfect campaign and plenty of luck to have a chance." Still, he rates her as a "clear underdog" in the May 7 general election. The seat, which went 58 percent for Mitt Romney last year, has been in GOP hands since 1981.

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week — some serious, some not — on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Here are two questions from the mailbag:

Q: I notice that in your ScuttleButton puzzles you often use the Huddleston "d" button. Can you explain the significance of the "d"? Was that a nickname, or was there a competitor with a similar name but no "d"? — Jim McSherry, Erdenheim, Pa.

A: Walter Darlington Huddleston, elected to the Senate from Kentucky in 1972 (and defeated in a third-term bid in '84), was always known by his nickname "Dee." It's unlikely the "d" on his campaign buttons stood for "Democrat," especially in '72, when his GOP opponent tried to tie him with Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, who went on to lose Kentucky in a 63-35 percent landslide. Whatever, I do confess to repeatedly using this item in ScuttleButton puzzles when I am in search of the word "the" — as we saw in the Feb. 27 puzzle, "Michael Row D Boat Ashore."

Q: In last week's [Feb. 27] Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation, you said you thought Detroit Mayor Dave Bing would win reelection, but he has yet to announce if he will run again. — Brian Craigo, Detroit, Mich.

A: You are correct, and in fact the betting seems to be that he won't seek another term. The desperate state of Detroit's financial problems is likely to lead to a takeover of the city by Michigan's state government, which may leave the 69-year old Bing without any say in the future of Detroit. Bing has not offered any detailed plan to solve the city's woes, and he might just say the heck with it and leave. In the NBA he was Rookie of the Year. Making the right moves in Detroit have proven much harder.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's show had NPR's Lynn Neary as substitute host with guest Rob Levinson of Bloomberg Government chatting about sequestration. You can listen to the segment here:

And on Thursday, I was back for a chat on the history of filibusters, which can be heard here:

Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me.

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Sure, there's incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets not only a Political Junkie T-shirt but also a 3-1/2-inch Official No-Prize Button! Is this a great country or what??

ON THE CALENDAR:

March 14-16 — CPAC event at Maryland's National Harbor.

March 19 — Special primary in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District to replace Tim Scott (R), who was appointed to the Senate.

April 2 — Runoff in S.C. 01. Also: St. Louis mayoral election.

April 9 — Special election in Illinois' 2nd CD to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. (D), who resigned.

April 30 — Special Massachusetts Senate primary.

May 7 — Special election in S.C. 01.

May 21 — Los Angeles mayoral runoff. Also: Pittsburgh mayoral primary.

June 4 — Special election in Missouri's 8th CD to replace Jo Ann Emerson (R), who resigned.

June 25 — Special Senate election in Massachusetts to replace John Kerry, who is now secretary of state.

Aug. 6 — Seattle mayoral primary.

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: One day after he won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary on a write-in vote, Henry Cabot Lodge, the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, said from Saigon it was a "great honor and a great compliment" but that he had no intention of returning to the U.S. to campaign for the GOP nomination. Without appearing in the state, Lodge — a former Massachusetts senator, U.N. ambassador and Richard Nixon's running mate for vice president in 1960 — received 35 percent of the vote (as a write-in) to Barry Goldwater's 23 percent and Nelson Rockefeller's 21 percent. Goldwater said of his opponents, "If Lodge and Rockefeller had worked hard in the past the Republicans would be in the White House today." Rockefeller, while calling Lodge's win a "victory for moderation," dismissed the results as a "victory for a favorite son" (March 11, 1964).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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