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Bush Versus Clinton in 2016?

Hillary Clinton / Jeb Bush

Hillary Clinton / Jeb Bush

Could it really happen? What are the odds? Will voters really want to sign up for either a second Clinton presidency or a third Bush White House? A quick glance at the latest public opinion polls suggests it is theoretically possible at the very least. Hillary Clinton is far and away the favorite for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The sitting Vice President, Joe Biden, is not even close in the polls. The only question seems to be, will she run? It’s not likely we’ll know the answer to that question until late this year or early next.

As for possible Republican contenders for 2016, there has been a lot of talk and speculation of late about former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Like Clinton, Bush says he will make a decision later this year. But unlike Clinton, his path to the Republican Party’s presidential nomination is far less clear.

Bush has said he will only run for the presidency if he can do so “joyfully.” But you have to wonder how much joy could there be in running the gauntlet of Republican primaries and debates if the last few primary campaigns are any guide. Bush is a favorite of mainstream, establishment Republicans who worry that Tea Party conservatives have done serious damage to the Republican brand, especially in presidential election years when candidates need to appeal beyond the party base.

Pros and cons of a Bush candidacy

Jeb Bush would bring formidable political skills to a presidential run. As a former two-term governor of the swing state of Florida, Bush has experience in winning votes from beyond his own party and in the art of compromise once in office. He also has a track record of success in winning Hispanic votes probably unmatched by any other potential Republican contender not named Marco Rubio. Bush won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote when he was first elected governor in 1998 and suffered only a small drop off in his re-election victory in 2002.

On the other hand, the Republican Party has changed since he last ran for office 12 years ago. The rise of the Tea Party movement and the need for national candidates to be cautious about offending that group was on display in the Republican presidential primaries in 2012. Mitt Romney finally emerged victorious but only after fending off a number of challengers who seemed suspicious that he was a core conservative. Jeb Bush is already getting a taste of that following his recent comments about immigration reform that have sparked a conservative backlash within the party.

Bush spoke at George H.W. Bush’s presidential library and said many undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. out of what he called “an act of love” for their families. He went on to say that many of those who came into the country illegally broke the law but have not, in his view, committed a felony. “There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

He didn’t have to wait long for a conservative response. Syndicated conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called his comments “kind of bizarre.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a likely White House contender in 2016, told CNN that it’s fine to celebrate the U.S. as a nation of immigrants, but “rule of law matters.” Even Karl Rove, who President George W. Bush referred to as “the architect” of his two presidential victories, said Jeb Bush’s comments were “inartful” on Fox News. “If he becomes a candidate this is going to be tossed back at him.”

This could portend a clash between Bush and the Tea Party should he run in 2016, something many mainstream Republicans would welcome. They have been more aggressive of late in taking on the Tea Party since last October’s government shutdown, which was inspired by Tea Party favorites like Ted Cruz but wound up hurting the Republican brand nationally. For those in the Republican Party establishment who want to push back on the Tea Party, a presidential run by Jeb Bush might give them the opportunity to make the case that the party can still appeal to moderate voters who wield big influence in presidential elections.

Beyond Bush’s potential problem with conservatives is another issue—the family name. The public approval ratings for his brother, former President George W. Bush, have only recently started to inch up. Some Republican strategists worry that ‘Bush fatigue’ remains a real issue for many voters and could hurt their chances in 2016.

Ready for Hillary

Hillary Clinton has been busy of late, giving paid speeches around the country and trying to duck the question of whether or not she’s running in 2016. During a recent appearance in San Francisco, Clinton said the hard question was not “Do you want to be president?” but rather “Why would want to do this?” and “What could you offer that could make a difference?”

Despite her attempts to keep a low profile there are fresh signs that Clinton would be a formidable contender if she ran. A recent poll in Iowa by Suffolk University found her winning the support of 63 percent of self-described Iowa Caucus goers. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was a distant second with 12 percent followed by Vice President Joe Biden with 10 percent.

In addition, the independent political action committee known as Ready for Hillary announced it has raised $1.7 million in the first three months of this year, another sign that Democrats would seem to be in a giving mood if Clinton decided to take the White House plunge. Ready for Hillary is not officially sanctioned by the Clinton camp but has already raised a total of $5.75 million in hopes of luring her into the race.

The media scrutiny will only intensify in the months ahead. Clinton’s new book on her time as President Obama’s secretary of state will be released on June 10th and publisher Simon and Schuster says it will include “candid reflections” about key moments during her tenure at the State Department and some “thoughts about how to navigate the challenges of the 21st Century.” Presuming the usual round of network TV interviews and media hype, it will vault Hillary Clinton back into the public spotlight and keep alive that favorite political parlor game known as, ‘Will she or won’t she?’

So what are the odds of a Clinton-Bush matchup in 2016? Clinton would seem to have an easier path to her party’s nomination that Jeb Bush. But don’t forget that Clinton was the clear favorite to be the party’s standard-bearer in 2008, only to be upset by a rookie senator from Illinois who captured the heart and soul of the Democratic Party and then went on to win a convincing victory that November over Republican John McCain.
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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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