- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2014

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is inching closer to a White House bid, with some of his allies clamming up about his plans and his recent public remarks seeming to lay the intellectual groundwork for a run.

And even his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, who’s repeatedly said she didn’t want another Bush to run for the presidency, is changing her mind, according to his brother Neil Bush.

“I think she has come around now, honestly, because so many people have come up to her and said, ‘Jeb’s the best-qualified guy,” he said in an interview Monday with Bloomberg Television. “So even my mom, I think, is starting to swing a little bit.”

The Bush camp has maintained that the 61-year-old would make a decision about his political future by the end of the year or early next year, and Sally Bradshaw, a longtime Bush confidante, told The Washington Times that there still is “no decision yet.”

But the closer Mr. Bush gets to his self-imposed deadline, the more people tend to think that he’s gearing up to go for it.

“I am not in the inner cycle, I am a bit outside that,” said Fred Malek, who served as national finance co-chair of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and as finance chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association. “I have talked to a few people who are in that circle, and they are kind of leaning toward it.”

SEE ALSO: Jeb Bush: ‘Lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles’

Other inquiries about Mr. Bush’s plans were gently rebuffed, including a family friend who said they would hold off on commenting at least through Christmas in order to give Mr. Bush the space to speak for himself.

The chances of a Bush bid seemed unlikely more than a year ago, when his mother kiboshed the idea, saying that while he is the best-qualified person for the job, she did not want to see him run. “We’ve had enough Bushes,” she said.

But now the prospect of a Bush candidacy — for what would be the fifth time in the last nine elections — is affecting the contours of the 2016 playing field, which is likely to feature a number of tea party favorites that have been critical of the tenure of President George W. Bush, the governor’s older brother.

Mr. Bush would start off with a national donor network and deep connections within the Republican party, which were perhaps strengthened in the runup to the 2014 midterm election, where he campaign with Republicans who went on to win competitive Senate races.

The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows him leading the pack of likely contenders, with Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky nipping at his heels.

Some have speculated that if Mr. Bush runs, then Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida would not.

Ana Navarro, a GOP strategist with strong ties to Mr. Bush and Mr. Rubio, said she “doesn’t obsess about” that question.

“We will cross that bridge only if and when we have to,” Ms. Navarro said. “We’re all friends. We’re going to stay that way, and we’ll all be together at the end.”

Last week, Mr. Bush stoked additional speculation about his political future when he told a group of CEOs at a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by The Wall Street Journal that the next GOP candidate should not tack too far to the right in a primary race.

“I don’t know if I’d be a good candidate or a bad one,” Mr. Bush said. “I kinda know how a Republican can win, whether it’s me or somebody else — and it has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more wiling to [follow a plan of] ‘lose the primary to win the general’ without violating your principles. It’s not an easy task, to be honest with you.”

The remarks sparked a flurry of criticism from some conservative circles, in which the Bush family, including former President George H.W. Bush, has long been labeled “RINO,” or Republican in Name Only.

But Mr. Malek, who served as an assistant to the elder Bush, applauded the message.

“I think he sounded good,” Mr. Malek said. “If you go too far to the right, you are going to lose the middle. Yet if you don’t go too far to the right, you stand a good chance of losing the primaries. But you have to be true to yourself and be who you are. Romney, who I think would be a good president, was forced further to the right than he would have liked.”

Some read Mr. Bush’s remarks as him sending a clear signal that, no matter how unpopular, he will continue to support Common Core K-12 education standards and an immigration overhaul that includes a path to legalization for illegal immigrants, which doesn’t sit well with conservatives.

That contrasts with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who went from being one of the most high-profile advocates of Common Core to one of the standards’ most vocal criticism, and Mr. Rubio, who went from being the face of an immigration bill that included a quick path to legalization — and eventual citizenship — to putting greater emphasis on strengthening border security.

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