Who is the establishment candidate?

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 27:  Former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks at the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 27, 2015 in National Harbor, Maryland. Conservative activists attended the annual political conference to discuss their agenda.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In 2008 this column pointed out that a successful two-term governor of Florida, with a solid track record both in governance and in winning the state for his party would have been a strong contender for president, if his name had been Smith. On the other hand, a second-term senator for New York, with no prior background in politics or prior connection with New York would not have been a candidate – if her name had been Smith. Of course, the country went on to elect a first term senator, though admittedly one with a prior track record as a state legislator.

This time, that former governor is having a go, and seems to be struggling. He may even end up losing the nomination to a fellow Floridian and former protégé, another first term senator, also with a record as a state legislator, and in this case a record of legislative leadership in his state.

The three Bushes who have run for president are rather different. (As are the two Clintons, but that’s another story). Bush 41 was a patrician raised in the tradition of public service. Though he built his own fortune in the oil business, he spent much of his life in public service: a heroic navy pilot, congressman, ambassador, director of the CIA, and vice-president before being elected to the White House. Bush 43 was more of a dilettante who came to public service late, after years of partying and then running a baseball team, but he had substantive executive experience as governor of the second largest state. 

Jeb is different again. He is more serious than W. Like Bill Clinton he is a policy wonk, deeply engaged in the issues. He has only served at the state level, but has studied widely and deeply in other policy areas. However, though he shares President Clinton’s passions and intellectual curiosity, he has none of his slick style, being blessed with the social awkwardness of his family. 

Commentators on this election are determined to examine the runners in terms of “lanes”. Bush, like Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Scott Walker has been pursuing the party establishment lane. Walker has already withdrawn. Christie has failed to gain any traction, but unlike Walker is not failing to live up to early promise, as he has looked like an outside bet from the beginning. Kasich has been performing more strongly than anticipated and Rubio about as well. Some informed commentators have suggested Rubio is exactly where he wants to be, ready to emerge as the main establishment choice when others fade. He is more naturally talented than Bush – or, indeed almost any other contender in either party. In addition to his establishment bona fides, he has at least some appeal to the Tea Party, and, come the election, can cross party lines to woo the large Spanish speaking electorate in several swing states, not just his own.

Bush was always supposed to be the establishment favorite. He knows many of the leading figures in the party and its leading fundraisers, both from his successful career in Florida and his family connections in Texas and Washington. But people are beginning to doubt he has the strength to win. Perhaps the donors should be looking elsewhere. They may have started to do so.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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