Jeb Bush as a Last Minute Candidate?

The American Spectator‘s Quin Hillyer thinks there’s a strong possibility that Jeb Bush, who has repeatedly said he isn’t running, could emerge as a “white knight” candidate and carry off the 2008 Republican nomination at the last minute. How so? Hillyer believes that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the front-loaded primary system could mean a messy, drawn out contest.

[I]n 2008, with a whopping 19 states, including mammoth California, moving their primaries, the Feb. 2 South Carolina match won’t seem so decisive because everybody will know that the big delegate haul will come just three days later. And because all of the major candidates will be fighting heavily across such a wide range of states, the odds are high that each major candidate will win at least several of those 19 states. If, say, John McCain wins California and Arizona, and maybe another, but Mitt Romney follows a New Hampshire win with Feb. 5 wins in Michigan, Utah, and Colorado, and another one or two, while Rudy Giuliani takes Florida, New Jersey, Illinois and Tennessee, and Mike Huckabee wins his home state of Arkansas and Sam Brownback carries home-state Kansas…well, then, who exactly is the front-runner?

RATHER THAN PROVIDING UNSTOPPABLE momentum to any one candidate, in other words, the widespread voting on Feb. 5 could serve to keep all three “major” candidates and even a couple of minor ones alive. Nobody could claim a mandate, the vitriol would continue to grow, and the dissatisfaction already being voiced by conservatives might take on pandemic proportions.

Given that what’s at stake in these primaries isn’t simply momentum but rather delegates–mostly awarded on a winner-take-all basis–this scenario strikes me as one that would winnow the field to McCain and Giuliani. Then again, the formula for allocating these delegates is complicated and putting numbers to Hillyer’s scenario is just too much work for a blog post, so let’s concede his point for the sake of argument.

The means by which Jeb (following Hillary Clinton’s lead in using the first name to avoid confusion with famous relatives) sweeps in and saves the day is rather far-fetched:

BUT WHY WOULD HE RUN when the name Bush is so unpopular these days?

Perhaps because a lot can change in a year. Ask George H. W. Bush, he of the 91 percent approval rating in 1991, about how fast political fortunes can change. What if, by late winter of next year, the vaunted troop surge in Iraq is seen to have been a major success? What if the continued over-reaching by Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha makes President George W. Bush look good by comparison, just as Bill Clinton looked good when compared with the caricature Newt Gingrich allowed to be drawn of himself?

Bill Clinton had the additional advantages of a booming economy and excellent oratorical skills. Somehow, I just can’t imagine GWB coming back to 60+ percent approval ratings in the next year.

Further, as I’ve noted repeatedly, Jeb has some serious immediate family baggage unrelated to his brother. Meanwhile, the other plausible “white knight,” Newt Gingrich, has even more problems.

Ultimately, the nomination will almost certainly go to someone in the arena by the time the primaries kick off. I do think it’s possible that someone not yet running could emerge, especially if they have major name recognition already, because there are good reasons not to vote for each of the existing candidates. But no one is going to come to the process in April or May 2008 and grab the nomination.

Indeed, there would be some serious legitimacy issues to someone who didn’t run in the primaries and yet managed to work a back room deal to get other candidates to pledge their delegates. It would amount to a return to the bad old days of smoke filled rooms.

There’s another reason not to subscribe to these “white knight” fantasies: The long, grueling campaign process tends to expose candidates for who they are. They ultimately tire, let down their guard, and let their true character show.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Indeed, there would be some serious legitimacy issues to someone who didn’t run in the primaries and yet managed to work a back room deal to get other candidates to pledge their delegates.

    We have fantasies (you choose the word quite correctly) like this every four years and they never even come close to coming true.

    And not only would this be problematic in a generic sense, can you imagine what it would look like if a Bush did it?

  2. James Joyner says:

    can you imagine what it would look like if a Bush did it?


  3. Please God, anything but Hillary Jeb in ’08. Really, anything.

  4. just me says:

    While I like Jeb Bush’s politics, I don’t think I am much in the mood for another Bush in the white house, and I know others would have to feel that way as well.

    In Jeb’s case his last name is more than a hinderance.

    I also think this dream of some dark horse GOP candidate sweeping in to save the day isn’t a reality. There may be a few other candidates to join the fray between now and them-but I don’t think one will be Jeb Bush and I don’t know that one is going to be that perfect candidate some of us would like to have but still don’t.

  5. A lot can happen over the next 18 months, but this has to be one of the least likely scenarios. On the other hand, I have to admit Jeb has a better chance of getting the nomination in 2008 than I do.

  6. John Burgess says:

    JEB Bush certainly has a good reputation in Florida, where he’s just completed his second term as governor. He is seen by most as having been effective, able to work well with others (including Democrats), and far less beholden to the political machinery that always burdens state politics.

    I think it important to note, though, that he’s on record as saying he doesn’t want the job of President. Maybe if a Democrat really screws up in that position between 2009-2013 he could be talked into changing his mind, though.