Where’s the Love for Jeb?

Via Twitter, Dave Weigel makes a good point:

I remain confused as to why people assume 2016 will be a Bush-Clinton race.

He links to a recent poll showing Rand Paul with 11 percent and Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio tied at 10. No, such early polling numbers aren’t very good predictors of how the nomination will actually play out, but still, one might expect Jeb Bush, bearing the biggest family name in the race, to look somewhat better at this point.

What does tend to predict nomination races is endorsements, and so far, those haven’t really been going Bush’s way, either. Very few politicians have endorsed him so far, and those have basically all been fellow Floridians. Among New Hampshire’s Republican party elites, Bush is trailing Rand Paul in the endorsements sweepstakes, and is tied for second place with Marco Rubio and George Pataki. (Yes, George Pataki.) To be fair, it’s not like the other candidates are garnering many endorsements, either. Most elites are holding back, at least for now.

This is somewhat surprising in Bush’s case. After all, Republicans almost always win when a Bush is on the ticket, and they almost always lose when one isn’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a magical family with royal blood or anything. Rather, they’re savvy and networked. They’re savvy because they know when to run for office: Bushes have run for president as challengers in 1980, 1988, 2000, and now 2016, all years in which a Republican had a plausible chance of winning. And they tend to win nominations, as well. Only George Senior has lost a presidential nomination contest, and he did so in 1980. It wasn’t crazy at the time to think that the party would prefer a more traditional moderate nominee and would reject the Reaganites. (Despite his popularity now, Reagan remains one of the most ideologically extreme presidential nominees in the postwar era.) But after Bush lost that battle (coming in second in terms of gubernatorial endorsements), he aligned himself with the Reagan people in the hopes of a future, successful bid, and that worked out for him.

Meanwhile, Bushes are networked in the sense that they have ties to many key factions in the GOP, including evangelical Christians, foreign policy hawks, and Chamber of Commerce types. They often pursue the time-honored strategy of not being the number one choice of any faction, but the number two choice of many factions. George W. Bush was a true master at hinting to different types of Republicans that, no matter what he had to say on the stump, he sympathized with and understood their views.

Jeb Bush appears to be in line with this family history. His immigration stance is a possible exception — Bushes are not known for taking stances that are substantially different from where the rest of the GOP is — but he still seems to be a pretty smart pol who knows when and when not to run. So why isn’t he walking away with this contest?

It’s still hard to say. And importantly, it’s still pretty early. Bush hasn’t even formally announced yet. He might reveal a number of big endorsements on the day that happens, which would end up scaring some other candidates out of the race. And party elites really are biding their time for now, waiting to see how the candidates perform in some early events. Bush’s weak handling of the Iraq question was an important piece of data for them, and the first few debates likely will be, as well.

Bush remains in a strong position for the nomination. But the fact that he hasn’t obviously scared anyone out of the race (indeed, this is one of the most crowded races in history) is pretty telling. There will be very little margin for error for him.

(h/t Jonathan Bernstein)

[Cross-posted at ]

Seth Masket

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.