Jeb Bush’s announcement this morning that he will “explore the possibility of running for president of the United States” has shaken up the 2016 landscape, making him not only the first Republican candidate to make such a move, and by far the biggest name, but also sends a clear message to donors to stay put.
Here are five ways the former Florida governor’s 2016 announcement will shift the presidential landscape.
1. Jeb Bush May Be an Early Front-Runner, Leads in Poll, but Still Work to Do
Just a few months ago, many thought Bush wouldn’t make this move, but today’s announcement not only makes him the first one in, but also makes him the GOP front-runner, although polls show he still has much work to do, as do all of his possible rivals. In a new ABC News-Washington Post poll out today, Bush comes in first, but with only 14 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who are registered. In a match up without Mitt Romney, Bush is first, with Paul Ryan next with 11 percent support, Rand Paul with 10 percent, and six others have 7 or 8 percent apiece. He may be on top, but that means 86 percent of leaned Republicans aren’t Bush backers. Bush has major name recognition, which is clearly helping him in this poll.
The best news out of the survey for Bush is that he comes in first with “mainline Republicans” and those are the voters most likely to participate in the primary process. With those voters he has 19 percent, while Ryan has 14 percent. But Bush is not first with GOP-leaning independents. Instead, Paul has 15 percent with that group, Christie has 10 percent, while Bush has 9 percent.
If Romney does get in, he comes in with 21 percent support while Bush has 10 percent, and 9 percent for Paul and 8 percent for Ryan.
2. Who Might Stay Out? A Bush aide cautions that this move isn’t even an exploratory committee yet. Instead, Bush is making a first move to set up a leadership PAC to “engage politically in a more focused way,” but the aide notes Bush has “not made a final decision on whether he will run. He will now “actively … get out there to gauge his support” with both donors and voters, according to the aide.
His decision process will likely grab a great deal of establishment support within the Republican Party and throws a wrench in their possible plans, and limits the appeal of other candidates who could grab that establishment support, including Mitt Romney, Chris Christie and possibly Marco Rubio, the Florida senator and friend of Bush’s. Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told ABC News Rubio won’t make his decision based on Bush’s news.
"Marco has a lot of respect for Governor Bush, and believes he would be a formidable candidate,” Conant said. "However, Marco's decision on whether to run for president or re-election will be based on where he can best achieve his agenda to restore the American Dream -- not on who else might be running."
In 2016, Rubio will also be up for re-election. He has said he wouldn’t run for both the nation’s top office and his Senate seat. Romney has said he’s not running, but recently the buzz that he could make a third run is back. Bush’s likely entry would mean an establishment choice that likely likely limits the voter appetite for a Romney candidacy.
Rick Wilson, a Florida Republican political consultant, said Bush’s announcement had the “desired strategic impact on the rest of the field Jeb cares about at this point,” but he thinks it mostly could hurt Christie and Romney because of the clear impact it will have on major GOP donors. Wilson believes Christie and Romney could be affected more than Rubio because he says Rubio is already “very well received with both grassroots and large dollar donors.”
“Younger guys that have participated in the contemporary conservative primary system like Marco understand you have to have an eat what you kill, live off the land strategy,” Wilson says, which he explains means Rubio understands a “great debate performance means good online fundraising” or a good poll could also see a bump in online contributions, instead of leaning on several high rollers to bank roll a campaign. Wilson adds that Rubio and Bush’s friendship, sometimes described as a mentor-mentee kind of relationship, shouldn’t be “psychoanalyzed” in regards to whether Rubio will be in or out, and it will be up to Rubio.
3. Could It Speed Up the Time Frame for Other Candidates?
It’s still only 2014, but it’s clear with Bush’s announcement today that 2016 is on. It’s the boldest move among the GOP contenders of White House interest in what will likely be quite a crowded field. While early 2015 is likely to bring similar announcements, Bush’s pre-Christmas tweet came as a surprise and it could possibly speed up the time-frame for other candidates, but not everyone agrees.
The benefit of announcing early is not only the attention. In Bush’s case, it more importantly sends a clear message to donors to not back any of the other possible contenders out there. Usually, the candidates with lower name recognition get in first, as they have the most work to do, as in the case of former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb’s exploratory committee announcement last month.
Wilson doesn’t think much of getting in the race early saying, “I don’t think a first mover advantage exists like it used to,” and while some possible candidates “might feel” they need to get in to stop all the big money from flocking to Bush, he doesn’t think there will be a rush to announce.
“A Scott Walker type might be more influenced by that than say a Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul,” Wilson said.
4. Will the Big Money Freeze Up?
Bush’s announcement may not have made a full-fledged campaign announcement, but it’s enough to put the brakes on these donors flocking to other potential camps.
Wilson explains it as there is “actually a primary for these money guys and that’s what Jeb is working on.” Wilson says many of the big money donors are “squishy on Christie,” not because of the bridge scandal, but because of his temperament.
“These guys have fallen out of love with Chris Christie, but they didn’t have a place to go yet and they are very tired of everybody else in the universe saying, ‘I’m your guy, I’m your guy,” Wilson said, adding no one was quite “making the sale” and Bush’s move allows them to “park their money for now. … Even if they don’t at the end of the day go fully in Jeb world, it lets them sit out the dance a little while longer.”
5. Jeb Bush Is Now Target No. 1 for Democrats
Hillary Clinton has been the main GOP target and now she will have some company. With today’s announcement, Bush will fill that place for Democrats. Shortly after Bush’s tweet, Democratic opposition research group American Bridge sent out a release reminding reporters of their 2016 Scouting Report full of negative information about all the GOP 2016 possible candidates, including Bush.
Their report has seven pages on the former Florida governor, but the group cautions: “And rest assured, this is the tip of the iceberg. If Jeb Bush wants to be scrutinized under the microscope of the presidential vetting process, that's his prerogative, but he does so at the peril of his reputation. Let's just say, it's going to be an interesting two years. We agree with Jeb -- onward!”
And the Democratic National Committee also put out a statement soon after Bush’s move with communications director Mo Elleithee saying, “Isn’t this what he’s been doing all along?”
“I don’t know what the difference is between ‘thinking about’ running and ‘actively exploring’ running, but I suspect it has a lot to do with keeping his name in the news,” Elleithee said. “However you see it, there’s no parsing this simple fact: Jeb Bush has fully embraced the failed economic agenda that benefits only a select few at the expense of the middle class. That’s not going to change no matter how many different ways he says he may run.”
With Bush making the biggest move of all the GOP contenders, expect Democrats to pounce. And it won’t just be Democrats; some conservative Republicans are already shouting their opposition to Bush, proving that being an early punching bag is definitely one drawback to getting in first.
ABC News’ Gary Langer and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.