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A.B. Stoddard: All eyes on Jeb Bush

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The 2016 GOP presidential nominating contest, which began after last week’s midterm elections wrapped up, already includes 17 potential candidates and their families, hundreds of would-be staff and several dozen top Republican donors. Though they aren’t saying it out loud, all of them are waiting for the decision of one person: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

In the weeks to come, Bush is expected to declare himself a candidate for president or to officially bow out. Money men need to know, as do candidates crafting messages against one another and, of course, those who influence Mitt Romney. Aides close to the 2012 GOP presidential nominee have already said Romney is not yet confident about the field and could run if Bush decides not to. 

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Conservatives are already trying to make the point that Bush would divide the party, due to his past support for comprehensive immigration reform and his endorsement of Common Core education standards. They want someone who can run against presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s ingrained insider-incumbency and do not want a race between two political dynasties. Bush would “make it impossible for Republicans to run the kind of campaign they need in 2016,” wrote Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review this week.

Bush himself is reportedly concerned with the “family business” baggage a Bush v. Clinton race would offer a country so disgusted by politics. Former President George W. Bush said this week of his brother, “I heard him say he doesn’t like the idea of a political class. ... The idea of ‘Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Bush’ troubles him, which speaks to his great integrity. I said, ‘Well how’s this sound: Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton?’ ”

The decision will be based on how he feels, Jeb Bush admitted in February. “I’m deferring that 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,” he said. Asked about timing, he said, “There’s a time to make a decision. You shouldn’t make it too early, and you shouldn’t make it too late. There’s a time. There’s a window.”

The window is now open and a decision is forthcoming, according to intimates, and even family members have stunned the political world by speaking out about a possible Jeb Bush run, like his son, George P. Bush, who told NBC News last month it was more likely than not.

And of course, it’s not at all subtle that George W. Bush has published a book about his beloved father, former President George H.W. Bush, immediately following the 2014 midterm elections.

The timing for Jeb Bush, who has supported a path to citizenship, could become perilous in light of any announcement of executive action on immigration reform by President Obama, which is expected soon. Republicans say such a move would be unconstitutional and tantamount, in Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell’s words, to “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” In his book Immigration Wars, released in 2013, the former governor flip-flopped on his prior support for citizenship and instead endorsed “a path to permanent legal residency.” Then in media interviews, following conservative criticism of the book, he admitted he had supported both, leading PolitiFact to rule accusations by Democrats of a “flip-flop-flip” true. 

As much as some conservatives hope Jeb Bush doesn’t run, there are others still begging him to, because — like Romney — they worry there is no one formidable enough to raise the funds necessary — at least $1 billion — to go up against the Clinton political machine.

But a Bush candidacy would guarantee immigration comes back to the fore in the presidential primary, just as it did in 2012, which is exactly what Republicans don’t want.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.