Jeb Bush’s Journey: Doing What it Takes, Whether Running or Not

Photograph by Andy Jacobsohn/Getty Images

A program before former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a Long Island Association luncheon on Feb. 24, 2014 in Woodbury, New York.

Jeb Bush is doing what someone running for president does.

That doesn’t mean he is running for president.

All he offers today is a simple e-smile.

The former two-term Florida governor is on the road this week and next raising money for fellow Republicans and touting his No. 1 issue.

Tonight, it’s Nashville, with Sen. Lamar Alexander, after appearing at a business leaders’ forum on education, his favorite cause, with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam — both seeking re-election.

Sure, Alexander served as secretary of education during the second half of Bush’s father’s presidency. Yet there’s no family tie to New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, for whom Bush will help raise money next week, or with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, same mission.

Bush will wrap a tour of Las Vegas with an appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition, convening at the Venetian Resort and Hotel. Among the Republicans with eyes on 2016 addressing that RJC Spring leadership session March 28-30: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is the keynote speaker at its gala dinner.

Along the way, a Sunday stop in Dallas at the National Republican Congressional Committee, raising money for its fall campaigns.

Think of all this as a command audition. Sheldon Adelson, billionaire chairman of Las Vegas Sands, the world’s largest casino company and owner of the Venetian, invested $100 million of his own money in the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential and congressional candidates.

For now, Bush is doing just what he said he was going to do this year — helping the party’s 2014 candidates — as he has done in recent years past, a spokeswoman notes.

Bush, son of one president and brother of another, has lamented that he missed his own “window of opportunity” in 2012. He told Charlie Rose in an interview for CBS News that “this was probably my time.”

“There’s a window of opportunity, in life, and for all sorts of reasons,” Bush said — though this didn’t mean another window might not open.

“Have you made a decision that you don’t want to be president?” Rose asked Bush in June 2012.

“I have not made that decision,” Bush said then.

Since then, despite his mother’s suggestions that it’s time for the parties to find another family for candidates, Bush has said he will make a decision about running in 2016 by the end of this year.

There are so many obvious reasons for running:

Not to mention his own passion for public policy, particularly education reform, Bush is fluent in Spanish, in a party that lost 71 percent of the vote to President Barack Obama in 2012. A charismatic campaigner and prolific fund-raiser, he has campaigned without a word of English in some of Miami’s precincts. He represents a middle road with a moderately right leaning that is missing in his party today. He will be 63 in 2016, over 70 the next time the office is wide open. And who, really, but a Bush, can stand up to Hillary Clinton, should the Democrat run in ’16?

And there are so many reasons not to run:

The nation’s immediate appetite for another Bush is questionable, following a president who led the nation to record annual deficits and doubled the national debt, thanks in part to a $1-trillion war waged in Iraq on a premise of weapons of mass destruction never found. His own party has veered so far toward the right and a Tea Party influence that the greatest impediment could be the primary contests. Bush polls poorly in early tests of ’16 Republican contenders, though such surveys hold next to no meaning this far out — still, Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul and company are stirring the early “buzz” at venues such as the Conservative Political Action Conference. Even Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio fell flat there.

Bush has said he’d want to run “joyfully.”

“I don’t wake up each day saying, ‘What am I going to do today to make this decision?’” Bush said during a tour of a Miami-area school last month. “I’m deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year, and the decision will be based on, can I do it joyfully, because I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits.”

If he runs, he will find little joy in the exhumation of Florida news inquires into his early business dealings as a commercial real estate developer in Miami and participant in international transactions that drew intensive scrutiny during his first, losing campaign for governor and again during his first win. As combed over as all those dealings were, they never got a national review.

His closest associates say Bush always has lacked that fire in the belly it takes to undergo a contest such as this. His concern for his own family’s privacy has always been a major factor. Yet that family is blossoming politically now, his son George P. Bush nominated this year to run as land commissioner in Texas, a stepping stone in the state that launched the last Bush presidency. Some say the next Bush candidacy will be saved for the next generation, the fourth in a line that started with Sen. Prescott Bush.

So for now, Bush is doing what people do — taking his personality and fund-raising ability on the road, certainly dropping some of that Spanish along the way in New Mexico and Nevada, and cementing relationships that could serve him well in another “window.”

Still, this doesn’t mean Bush is going anywhere but home in 2016.

Asked today if this tour has a joyful feel to it, the traveling Bush responded with a simple email:

:)

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