John Ellis Bush
Occupation: former governor of Florida, businessman
Hometown: Houston, TX and Miami, FL
Former Governor Jeb Bush announced his campaign on June 15, already regarded by many as the presumptive front runner for the Republican nomination. He led polls as the front runner until July, when he began a long decline into the second tier of candidates polling in the single digits, despite a commanding lead in fundraising (the Right to Rise super PAC raised over $100 million this year)
Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, and as he is better known, the son of former President George H. W. Bush and younger brother of former President George W. Bush. Interestingly, his campaign logo avoids the use of his surname, although it echoes his logo from his first (failed) run for governor of Florida in 1994, which also avoided his surname (maybe owing to the fact that his father had just lost his reelection bid two years earlier, although he did carry Florida).
Regarded as the party establishment’s chosen candidate, Bush has struggled mightily in the face of massive dissatisfaction with the status quo and was unable to effectively deal with the rise of Donald Trump. His poor performances in the first few debates didn’t help either, and Trump’s dismissal of him as “low energy” probably damaged his campaign considerably. He has endured so far though, and turned in his best debate performance yet last night in Las Vegas – although some commentators have already dismissed it as too little, too late. I personally disagree with that assessment, as Bush’s campaign has enough money and support to keep in and enough organization to turn in a strong showing or two in some early primary states. In fact, his slump in the polls may be a blessing in disguise, as the expectations for him as front runner will be much lower.
Despite his inability to gain traction among the GOP primary voters, Bush in many ways would be a formidable candidate in the general election. He was elected twice in Florida, the largest swing state, and may be able to shrink his party’s gap among Latino voters due to his stance on immigration and the fact that he speaks Spanish and married a Mexican woman. His ties to the establishment and his stances on immigration and Common Core curriculum standards have handicapped his chances in the primary, though, and many voters and in the media are already turning to his former protégé and fellow Floridian, Senator Marco Rubio as the best hope for Republicans in the general election.
Yet Bush remains. It’s hard to imagine him dropping out of the election now, having raised so much money and still commanding a solid spot in the second tier. Undoubtedly, his hope is that as candidates inevitably start to drop out when voters finally have to pick someone, he’s there to pick up their support.
Rafael Edward Cruz
Occupation: Senator from Texas
Hometown: Houston, Texas
I’ve written about Senator Ted Cruz in previous posts, as he was the first major candidate to declare back in March. Since then, he’s gone from mostly an als0-ran candidate to a major force in the primary, dominating the headlines this week after his performance in Tuesday’s debate and claiming the second-place spot after Donald Trump.
Cruz and his team have developed a clever strategy and a formidable campaign organization. It’s simple and may prove effective come the primaries. To summarize his strategy and logic, it’s something like this:
-The Republican Party lost the last two elections because their candidates, Senator John McCain in 2008 and former Governor Mitt Romney in 2012, were moderates who didn’t inspire the GOP’s base sufficiently.
-Voters across the nation are fed up with Washington in general and politicians in particular.
-A candidate who can preach the gospel, who’s conservative on all issues — immigration, economics, taxes, social issues — stands the best chance of winning.
-The Republican electorate can be divided into four broad lanes of rough ideological coherence: a moderate establishment lane (think former Speaker John Boehner or McCain), a very conservative tea party lane (the House Freedom Caucus), the evangelical lane (former Governor Mike Huckabee), and the libertarian lane (Senator Rand Paul and his father, former Representative Ron Paul).-Eventually, Republican voters will tire of Trump for whatever reason and seek a more serious candidate who nonetheless echoes his stance on immigration.
Cruz credits his rise in the polls to the inability of the first lane (the establishment) to coalesce around one candidate and the merging of the three other lanes into one. Bush may have been the early favorite of the establishment lane, but due to his sputtering campaign and dim poll performance, many leaders in the party are reluctant to back him. And Cruz sees the latter three beginning to come to him as a more serious alternative to Trump.
Now that he’s risen in the polls, however, he’s inviting more attacks from his rivals. While many thought that Trump and Cruz would begin to clash and break up their thus-far amiable relationship on the debate stage this week, this was not the case. Trump somewhat retracted describing Cruz as a “maniac,” and Cruz has steadfastly refrained from criticizing Trump. Again, this is likely part of his strategy to pick up Trump’s supporters.
Cruz is also heavily banking on the “SEC primary” in March (see the Politico article), when numerous Southern states hold their primaries on the same day. These include his home state of Texas and other large GOP states like Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and more.
Most polls have Cruz losing in the general election to former Secretary Hillary Clinton, but the election remains a long way off.