Jeb Bush: McCain/Romney or Giuliani/Huntsman?

Jeb Bush says he will “actively explore” a run for the presidency. I think this means he’s going to run unless he can’t get off the ground.

Bush wants to be the GOP’s establishment candidate, as John McCain was (more or less) in 2008 and Mitt Romney was in 2012. But some say he’s more in the mold of Rudy Giulani and/or Jon Huntsman, both of whom proved insufficiently conservative to gain traction.

So which is it? Nate Silver takes up the question.

Silver concludes, as I do, that Bush is more akin to McCain/Romney than to Giuliani/Huntsmann. Silver relies on a construct he developed last year to rate the level of conservatism of various Republican candidates. The construct employs three factors: (1) the candidate’s voting record in Congress, if applicable, (2) the nature of the candidate’s donors as assessed in a Stanford University analysis, and (3) the candidates OnTheIssues.org scores, based on their public statements.

On Silver’s index, Jeb Bush (with a rating of 37) comes out very slightly to the left of Romney and McCain (at 39) and well to the right of Huntsman (at 17). Giuliani is not evaluated.

Unlike Huntsman, Bush’s deviation from conservative orthodoxy so far seems confined to the issues of immigration and education. But according to Silver, Bush’s positions on these matters “are not far removed from those Republican voters declare in polls.” To that extent, Bush should be considered a GOP establishment candidate in the Romney/McCain mold, not an outlier.

Bush, moreover, takes mostly socially conservative positions, as McCain and Romney (in his post governor incarnation) did. This distinguishes him from Giuliani in a very important respect.

Silver acknowledges on important similarity between Huntsman and Bush, however. Both are openly critical of the GOP’s direction and seem willing, if not eager, to “call out” the party’s conservative base. I imagine that Bush will moderate his strident moderation once he’s finished “exploring” a run. If not, he will encounter problems that Romney and even the “straight-talking” McCain wisely avoided.

No Nate Silver analysis would be complete without a discussion of the odds. He notes that betting markets put the probability of Bush being nominated at 20 to 25 percent, and finds this about right. We can, he says, derive this range of probability if we say that Bush has about a 50 percent chance of emerging in decent shape from the “invisible primary” (mainly the race for money) and that, if he does so emerge, a 40-50 percent chance of going on to win the nomination.

Looking at it in similar terms, we can say that there’s about a 50 percent chance that the establishment (overlooking the immense unpopularity of the last Bush presidency) will make Jeb Bush its preferred candidate and that there’s a 40-50 percent that the establishment’s preferred candidate will be nominated.

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