America is getting increasingly excited about another election cycle – not about the upcoming mid-terms in November, but about the presidential race in 2016.
But whereas Democrats are thrilled and inspired to rally behind a (still undeclared) candidacy of Hillary Clinton, rank-and-file Republicans feel exactly the opposite when looking at a crowded field of potential contenders.
What they are seeing are presidential hopefuls who inspire anything but hope to re-capture the White House after eight years of Barack Obama: candidates like Rand Paul (too libertarian), Ted Cruz (too conservative) or Chris Christie (too unpredictable).
The fact that there is no shortage of fringe candidates has led mainstream Republicans to carefully float two household names of the party establishment: Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.
Supporters of the idea of one of them running say they are the only credible challengers who could snatch the presidency away from Hillary Clinton, the expected Democratic candidate.
Only a moderate Republican, so the argument goes, can seriously compete with Clinton for the votes of independents, women, Hispanics and other minorities, groups that largely went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and that are crucial for any 2016 win.
Republican critics suggest, though, that having the son and brother of two ex-presidents (age 61) or a two-time loser (age 67) run against a historic first-woman candidate would basically kill the argument that Hillary Clinton is too old (age 66) and a political déjà-vu experience.
Bush and Romney are considered similar candidates – both moderate former governors from important states (Florida and Massachusetts) who enjoy the support of much of the Republican establishment but draw skepticism, if not hostility, from the party’s influential conservative ranks.
Bush just lost favor with conservative members of his own party with a recently stated belief that undocumented immigrants from south of the border act out “of love” for their families, because they try to find work and make a living, and they should not be treated as felons.
That comment drew criticism from the party’s right wing that sees illegal immigration as a threat to US security and is blocking comprehensive immigration reform in Congress.
“I think that anybody who breaks a law in America as their first action putting their first foot on our homeland illegally, it may be an act of love from the heart, but it’s illegal. It’s called illegal immigrants for a reason,” former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said.
For more than a year, Bush and his team did their utmost to tamp down talk about 2016. But at a Catholic Charities fundraiser in New York last week, Bush made remarks that were the most direct hint of his intention so far: “I’m thinking about running for president.”
Bush might have the support of much of the establishment and, as a member of a presidential family, a network of donors and operatives, but there is a considerable feeling of “ABAB” within the party: “Anybody But Another Bush”.
This eventually may lead Bush to reconsider and not run – in which case Romney may actually try it again.
During a political panel discussion last Sunday, CBS “Face the Nation” host and veteran Washington insider Bob Schieffer stirred up a lot of buzz by quoting a “source” that said Romney has not written off the idea of a 2016 re-run.
After shrinking out of the public light following his crushing loss to President Obama in 2012, Romney has begun to embrace the role of party elder, believing he can shape the national debate and forge a governing majority out of a fractured party.
So far, the prospect of another Romney candidacy has generated some excitement – among Democrats. See this comment on a Washington Post blog: “Please run Mitt, pretty please. It will be fun, like old home week.”