Harping on Mark Halperin

It’s so tempting to mock Mark Halperin’s recent piece on Jeb Bush’s 2016 prospects. Yes, it is nuts to imagine the former governor carrying California or New Jersey, except in the context of a historic landslide in which those states would be irrelevant to the outcome. It’s not so crazy to see him seriously contesting Michigan (it was only 3 points more Democratic than the nation in 2012), but Halperin gives no reason to see Jeb Bush having particular appeal to the Wolverine State. (As Matthew Yglesias notes, Halperin oddly doesn’t mention Jeb’s potential appeal in Florida, a genuine swing state, as a potential advantage in a general election). Halperin gives us a roll call of swing states that Jeb Bush could allegedly carry, with no supporting evidence.

There’s actually much that’s worthwhile, or at least harmless, in Halperin’s piece. It’s certainly true that the Republican presidential field remains unsettled, and many party actors probably see Jeb Bush as an appealing nominee. He certainly could do all the things presidential candidates have to do: raising money, recruiting staff, win endorsements from officeholders. Speaker of the House John Boehner is a Jeb fan, a decent indicator that the Republican party network will harbor many supporters of the former Florida governor. Halperin mentions one “high-profile would-be presidential candidate” who says he wouldn’t run if Jeb got into the race. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are only two of the potential contenders who might find it difficult to put together a presidential campaign if Jeb Bush enters the race. I have no idea if Jeb Bush will run for president, but I suspect that he would be a strong candidate for the Republican nomination.

Halperin has a few insights that stem from the practice of access journalism. He claims that the Bush family, including the potential candidate’s mother, wife, and daughter, are now accepting of a presidential run. Jeb himself believes Common Core, not immigration, is his biggest liability with GOP activists. (He has a longstanding relationship with religious conservatives, but his support for Common Core kept him from being invited to the Values Voters Summit).

Halperin’s biggest problem is that he vastly overstates the importance of candidate personality in general . He describes “many Democrats who have met Jeb Bush tell me they’ve come away” willing to support him for president. I’m sure there are some Democrats who like Jeb personally. But the experience of recent elections makes almost certain that few will actually vote for him. Party identification generally trumps personality. Nor does Jeb Bush have a particular bipartisan profile. He is essentially a “generic Republican”, and he is a member of the GOP’s most prominent family. Nor does he perform especially well in admittedly-meaningless-at-this-point general election polls. It’s easier to imagine a low-information voter (the kind most likely to split tickets) judging Jeb Bush by his brother’s record than paying attention to his alleged policy expertise. There’s no particular reason to believe that the governor will perform better or worse than any other Republican candidate in 2016.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Richard Skinner

Richard Skinner teaches at the School of Professional and Extended Studies at American University and is the author of More Than Money: Interest Group Action in Congressional Elections. He tweets at @richardmskinner.