Jeb Bush: Too Many Burned Bridges to Run in 2016?

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, brother and son of presidents, was in the news on Monday, appearing on NBC's Today show to hawk his new book on immigration reform.

But given the perpetual nature of our presidential campaigns, the conversation inevitably turned to the question of whether Governor Bush would run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. In response, Bush said:

[T]hat's way off in the future. I have a voice. I want to share my beliefs about how the conservative moment and the Republican Party can regain its footing, because we've lost our way.

Pressed by host Matt Lauer on whether he would not rule out a run for president in 2016, Bush answered "I won't. But I won't declare it today either."

The speculation isn't idle. In addition to promoting his book Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution -- publication of which was moved up several months in order to have an impact on the debate over immigration reform -- Bush travels later this week to Coral Gables to pow-wow with GOP kingmakers at the party's quarterly finance committee meeting. And then next week, Bush is scheduled to speak at CPAC, an event he claims to have reluctantly agreed to attend. When asked why he was going, he said:

"That's a good question," he says, shooting an exaggerated glare in the direction of some aides. "It's because a lot of people urged me to do it." He downplays expectations for the speech -- "I'm going to be exhausted" -- and praises other Republicans who are considering presidential runs, including fellow Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio.

Yes, it's usually not useful trying to read the tea leaves nearly four years away from another brutal round of primaries. But in this case, we may want to make an exception. As important as the 2012 election was to the country and the Republican Party, 2016 is going to be the Alamo Election for the GOP. The party is already in the tall grass of American politics, blundering toward the wilderness, and another loss in 2016 -- the 5th in the last seven presidential contests -- would make the aftermath of the 2012 election look like a Hari Krishna convention. The bloodletting and splintering would have impossible-to-predict results, except that the national party would end up being even weaker and more disorganized than it is now -- if that's possible.

So it is important to us even at this early date to discover what Jeb Bush is thinking. That's because he could win. He is a hugely talented politician who could raise a boatload of cash and have his pick of the top strategists in the party to develop a nationwide organization.

He also possesses a name that, at least today, is poison to the American people. More importantly, his harsh criticisms of Republicans over the last year has angered many key factions of the party. At the very least, he will have some serious fence-mending to do if he wants to compete in those primaries that will be decided by the conservative base.

Bush's anger at the base of the GOP wouldn't be so surprising if he didn't echo the same criticism of the party made by Democrats. One year ago in Dallas, Bush made this comment in answer to a question:

“I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and. ... I don’t think I’ve changed,” Bush said during an appearance Thursday, according to reports.

“But it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion,” he said, “rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective, and that’s kind of where we are.”