Jeb Bush’s decision not to endorse Mitt Romney before Tuesday primary raises three possibilities about the former Florida governor’s role in the 2012 presidential election.
At the moment, he is playing no role at all. There had been considerable speculation he would publicly back Romney, as his father, former President George H.W. Bush, has. And Romney has made a strenuous effort to recruit Jeb Bush, whom Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times called “the biggest catch of all” in the presidential race.
But with Romney in a strong position to defeat his chief rival, Newt Gingrich, and win tomorrow’s Florida primary, Bush has steered clear of the contest. “If Dad got behind [Romney], that would help shut the door,” Jeb Bush Jr. told Zeleny. “But that’s just not his style.”
If Bush wants to run for president himself one day, he “could have concluded that it was not in his interest to get involved and agitate conservatives in his party by going against Mr. Gingrich,” Zeleny wrote. Maybe, but I doubt that is what’s on Bush’s mind.
The three possible roles–major roles—for Bush this year are more intriguing. He may not intend to play any of them, but his refusal to be active in the race now makes them possibilities nonetheless.
First, having not endorsed a candidate, Bush could emerge as an acceptable compromise nominee in the unlikely event there’s a deadlock between Romney and Gingrich at the GOP convention in August. In other words, a brokered convention might turn to him, thus unifying the party.
Second, he could play a unifying role as a vice presidential choice of either Romney or Gingrich. It’s significant he’s from Florida, a state that President Obama won in 2008 -- and Republicans must capture in 2012 to defeat Obama’s reelection. With Bush on the ticket, winning Florida would be all but assured.
Third, Bush could play a kingmaker role in the Republican presidential race. He would have the credibility to promote an agreement among leading Republicans about choosing the best nominee. Again, this would occur only if neither Romney nor Gingrich had won a majority of the delegates at the end of the primaries and caucuses.